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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Review: NOS4A2

NOS4A2 is Joe Hill's Stephen King pastiche novel. That's not how it's sold as, but that's how it struck me. It could be because I haven't read Joe Hill before, or it could be that I've always associated this style of supernatural horror with Stephen King.

The story revolves around Vic "The Brat" McQueen. As a child, she discovers that her bicycle is no mere symbol of freedom, but can also carry her places. By focusing her mind on what she wants to find, she can call up "The Shorter Way Bridge", which connects her to other places near and far, which invariably lets her locate things previously lost. Early on in the novel, she meets up with Maggie Leigh, a librarian in Iowa, who teaches her the rules of supernatural magic as applies to Joe Hill's world.

In the mean time, supernatural serial killer Charles Talent Manx has been collecting children and their mothers for nefarious purposes. It is inevitable that the two characters will collide, and of course they do.

The nature of the collision surprised me, though it shouldn't have, given the amount of foreshadowing provided at the start of the novel. McQueen loses her bike, and then rediscovers it as senior in high school, looking for trouble. Her first encounter with Manx leaves her emotionally scarred and Manx in prison.

Over the next few years, McQueen's life falls apart as she makes one bad decision after another. Then Manx returns and goes after McQueen and her son. The rest of the novel feels familiar, if not quite 100% predictable.

There are a few great ideas in this book. One of them is McQueen's "Search Engine" series of puzzle books for children. It's such a compelling idea that I'm surprised no one has executed it in real life. Another is McQueen's husband. In fantasy literature, we usually get spouses who don't understand or don't believe in the supernatural, deepening the protagonist's sense of isolation and desperation. Instead, McQueen's husband is a comic book geek and motorcycle mechanic who is the first person to believe her story and not declare her insane. It's a refreshing change from the usual stereotype and I thoroughly enjoyed that.

The climatic scenes of the book are compelling reading, if mostly unbelievable. I do understand Hill's desire to put McQueen through hell so we can sympathize with her, but unfortunately, the amount of physical damage McQueen sustains, given her past characterization, leads the reader to think that there's no way she could have gone on. It sounds like a minor nit, but at that point it felt as though McQueen was no longer a character but a puppet being directed by the author.

In any case, I'm not sure I can recommend this book. I picked it up for $2.00 at the Kindle store, and at that price I got my money's worth as far as summer reading is concerned. It's not worth it at $9.99. On the other hand, if you've never been exposed to this style of supernatural thriller, this is a perfectly fine and competent introduction to the genre, though perhaps Christine or Duma Key would be better.

I'll leave you with a quote from the novel to help you decide:
“Chris and me never exactly killed ourselves spoiling you, Vicki. I was afraid to. Now I don’t even think a parent can. Spoil a child, I mean. I didn’t figure nothing out until it was too late to do me any good. I never seemed to have much of a feel for parenting. I was so scared of doing the wrong thing I hardly ever did the right thing.” (Kindle Loc 3460)

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