Thursday, May 23, 2013

Book 58: NOS4A2

I may be in the minority here, but I didn't like this novel as much as Joe Hill's previous novels.  I think part of it is that I didn't read the description of the novel too closely, and basically ordered it because it was by Joe Hill, and I assumed that it would be about vampires based on the title.  I was excited to see Hill's take on vampires, especially given his father's treatment of them in Salem's Lot.  However, while the character referred to in the title certainly has vampiric qualities, sapping life energy from others to remain alive, it isn't a straight up vampire story as I expected.  Additionally, I like Stephen King a lot, but one thing I've enjoyed about Joe Hill is that even though he works in the same genre as his father, his voice is very different and distinct.  This novel reminded me more of his father than any of his previous works, which isn't a bad thing, but it felt odd.
The novel begins with a creepy prologue, introducing the now comatose Charles Talent Manx, the novel's villain.  Of course, this is a horror story, so the reader immediately knows that there is no way this man will stay incapacitated.  From here, the story flashes back in time to its protagonist, Victoria, or the Brat.  After their return from a family holiday, 8 year old Victoria's parents begin to fight about a lost bracelet, and Victoria wants to end their fight.  She runs off with her trusty bicycle, and discovers that she can make a bridge with her mind that will take her to the things she is looking for.  She doesn't mention it to anyone, and makes up cover stories for how she found the lost items, which she even believes herself though she knows the truth deep down.  As she gets older, she has questions about this ability, and the bike leads her to a person with answers.  Victoria is not the only one with this type of skill, though in manifests differently in everyone, the one common factor being that all of the people have talismans, such as Victoria's bike.  However, the use of these skills takes a toll, exhibiting as illnesses and eye issues in the case of Victoria.  During this conversation, she also learns of Charles Talent Manx, a man that has been using this ability to keep himself alive and kidnapping children in the process.
Due to family issues, Victoria ends up as a rather rebellious teenager, and one night, while looking for trouble, her bike takes her to Manx's house in Colorado.  Her unexpected arrival throws a kink into his plans, and he ends up getting caught by the authorities, arrested and sentenced.
The novel then flashes forward to the adult Victoria, who lives in Colorado, and has a son, Bruce Wayne, with the man that helped her when she escaped from Manx.  Victoria is incredibly screwed up - she is haunted literally and figuratively by the events that occurred, and still receives phone calls from the kidnapped children asking for their father, Charlie.  She is an alcoholic, she believes she is crazy, and though she has strength and skills, she is also very dysfunctional.  Once Charles miraculously regains consciousness and freedom, he decides that his next victim will be Wayne, and Victoria must keep it together long enough to save her son from his clutches.
I feel like I went into quite a bit of detail but the description of the novel actually gives away this much of the plot, and it is a seven hundred page book.  I actually didn't really warm up that much to Victoria though I thought her portrayal was very realistic and reasonable.  The story worked very well within its own logic though I think I was hoping for something where the other worldliness didn't come into play until much later.  Unfortunately for that, the bridge was introduced within the first ten pages.  I think I tend to prefer horror stories that seem to be normal until things just aren't (see many King novels that start grounded in reality and then aren't - NOS4A2 was grounded in reality the majority of the time except for that one thing that is introduced in the very beginning) - Horns had a similar beginning where the main character had horns on the first page, and the story developed from there, but it worked for me more in that novel. 
Joe Hill also had quite a few pop culture references including Firefly, Dr. Who, and Harry Potter, though I think the one I was most pleasantly surprised by was Cloud Atlas.  I know a few readers mentioned some nods to Stephen King's work as well, and that actually leads me to a question - one of the characters refers to something called the True Knot.  The Stephen King novel coming out in September refers to the True Knot in the description - so was this something that came up in a previous King novel that I don't remember or was there some father/son collaboration while they were writing these novels?  The other thing I would say is that Manx's helper very much had the feel of a character from a King novel.  Overall, it was a well-structured novel, and it was definitely a page turner but it wasn't what I was expecting, and it seemed much more influenced by Stephen King than Hill's other work.  I think most people would still enjoy this since it is certainly a good horror novel, I just think I expected something even better or different.

1 comment:

Szever said...

I also loved the reference to Craddock McDermott - the man who keeps his spirit in his suit (a link to Heart-Shaped Box, Joe's first novel).

I actually share a bit of your feelings on the book. Was somewhat let down, and maybe that is because how strong Heart-Shaped Box and Horns were. But I can't take back having read them, and those are the standards he needs to live up to now!

I just felt the plot, thought unique and obscure, was somewhat predictable, and the ending fell a little flat. Something was just off for me.

Looking forward to the Horns movie!