WOW. I have yet to discover the word to accurately describe how much I LOVE this novel. Aside from Stephen King’s It, Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 is by far my favorite novel. It really doesn’t get much better than this. This is over 600 pages of pure, fantastical, imaginative fiction unlike anything I’ve read before. If it came down to one specific thing I enjoyed the most, it would be HOW the story was told. I’m rarely so moved by a novel as to read it twice, but with this one, I’d read it a third time. NOS4A2 is well on the way to being a classic. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.
*SPOILER ALERT: I'm about to highlight all my favorite things about this book that may include revealing a few plot twists!
Typically I talk about the “good guy” first in my reviews, but I liked the antagonist so much, I’m gonna start with him: Charles Talent Manx III. Immediately into the story, Joe Hill makes it known that Charles Manx is the “bad guy.” He’s creepy, maniacal, and yet charming and I just couldn’t get enough of him. When we first meet him, he’s comatose and in prison serving life. Until he wakes up scaring the crap out of a nurse, babbling on about Christmasland. I don’t know about you, but Christmasland sounds like my kind of place. Well, if you exclude the vampire children, scissors-for-the-drifter, and mummified adult heads hanging from the Christmas tree. But all of that comes later.
Christmasland is Manx’s inscape. I absolutely love this whole idea of inscapes—which is a good thing since it just so happens to be a main theme of the novel. Mr. Hill describes inscapes (through Maggie Leigh) as “a world of thought.” Following that logic, Christmasland is all in Manx’s head. Here’s where it gets trippy: Charles Manx, with the aid of Bing Partridge, kidnaps children and drags them into his inscape. So the obvious questions are how and why.
Here’s the how: a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith. The old-fashioned car is kind of like a key between reality and his inscape. Now I’m not going to attempt to explain this because I don’t feel I could explain it properly and give this brilliant idea the justice it so deserves. The why is it bit easier to clarify. He’s basically like a vampire: feeding off the children’s negativity to keep him young and they live forever, at the age they were kidnapped, in Christmasland. So we don’t really know how old Mr. Manx is, but at one point he declares to be over a hundred. Creepy old guy? Check. Feeding off the young? Check. Charming and witty façade? Check. Charles Talent Manx III just might be a vampire—hence the title (which is also the Wraith’s license plate) NOS4A2.
For every bad guy, there’s a hero. In NOS4A2, Victoria “the Brat” McQueen is more or less an “anti-hero.” First let me say that by anti-hero I mean she’s an absolute wreck but is still the one to save the day—so she’s the hero, but doesn’t really portray the typical qualities of a hero. Victoria has a kind of inscape of her own: the Shortaway Bridge. Her “key” to the Shortaway Bridge when we first meet her is her Raleigh bicycle. The difference between Vic’s inscape and Manx’s inscape is that she uses the Shortaway Bridge to find things that have been lost.
During a series of unfortunate events (and I don’t mean Lemony Snicket’s series), Victoria learns more about inscapes from Maggie Leigh (who’s Scrabble tiles assist her in a psychic manner), loses her Raleigh bicycle, ends up a mother and then children’s author, becomes a drunk, ends up in a psych ward followed by rehab, then finally gets her life back together by the time she’s in her thirties. Amongst all of the chaos, she accidentally finds Charles Manx on the other end of her Shortaway Bridge and inadvertently gets him sent to prison after burning down what came to be known as his “Sleigh House.” This is also how she meets Louis Carmody, her son Bruce Wayne Carmody’s father and on again, off again lover over the years.
The whole story is building up to the eventual trip to Christmasland. In place of her Raleigh, Vic McQueen stumbles upon the Triumph motorcycle. Her and her now twelve-year-old son fix up the bike and “the Brat” finds her Shortaway Bridge once again. It’s one of those just-in-time elements because shortly after, Charles Manx and Bing Partridge kidnap her son! I have to say, the climax was epic. The last few chapters cover the journey on which Manx takes Wayne to get to Christmasland, while Vic is running from the police trying to chase them down, and Lou is suffering from severe health problems that the stress could cause to be fatal. Then the much-anticipated venture into Christmasland finally arrives. This part I will not describe, because it deserves far more than a summarization in a book review. You will just have to pick up a copy and read Mr. Hill’s masterful, descriptive writing as he takes you on an adventure in Christmasland.
My favorite thing about reading Joe Hill’s work is the level of detail he provides. It also makes for a long book review when I feel the need to give at least a half-hearted attempt at a back story! This book is only 600+ pages long, but it feels twice as long (in a good way) because of the depth and level of commitment Mr. Hill displays in the characters and details. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Vic McQueen and Charles Manx and reading about how “the Brat” grows up, stumbles and falls, and picks herself back up to come out on top. Though I described Victoria McQueen as the “anti-hero,” I really feel like she is one of the most relatable, if not fallible, characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to know. Overall, NOS4A2 is an instant classic in my opinion. There’s so much to love about this novel: the creativity, the imagination, the attention to detail, the way the story ebbs and flows. If you’ve yet to read this, or anything by Mr. Joe Hill, I’m not going to just recommend you read NOS4A2, I’m going to ask you that you do. I don’t feel that anyone should go through the literary life and miss out on this novel. So, please, dear reader friends, find your copy of NOS4A2 and join me in celebrating Joe Hill’s masterpiece!
© Chelsie Cummings 2016