Since watching Horns, I wanted to read at least one Joe Hill’s novels. While watching Horns, I felt very reminiscent of his father’s work. In particular, Stephen King’s It. Upon seeing one of Joe Hill’s books listed as one of the book club books chosen last year I grew excited to read NOS4A2. Little did I realize I would come down with the flu while attempting to read this one. And sadly when I’m sick, most illnesses throw me off for the duration of said sickness. Any time I wasn’t awake, I was asleep and my desire to function ceased to exist. Not being able to continue on Vic’s journey with her was quite torturous for me as my want to read this book was strong. So a book that normally would have taken me about a week to read took me fifteen days instead. And boy, do I have opinions.
First of all, for those of you who know nothing about the book, let me explain.
As a girl, Victoria, Vic as we come to know her, discovers she possesses a unique ability. She has a knack for finding lost items with the power of her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike. Her ability can transport her on the Shorter Way Bridge distances that are impossible to travel in record amounts of time. With her ability taking away a piece of her each time she opts to evoke her special power, she realizes she has to make these decisions wisely. However, the first time she meets with Charlie Manx, she realizes that sometimes not everything she desires to look for, trouble in this case, needs located.
In fact, she realizes rather quickly that she has no place in Manx’s world, Christmasland, and becomes the one and only child ever to escape his grasp. After years of pushing the meeting of Mr. Manx out of her mind, Vic realizes that Manx is not quite done with her after all. Though this time, she discovers he does not necessarily want her as much as he wants her to pay for slandering his character. Instead of taking her to Christmasland, Manx opts for a choice that will drive Vic mad. Manx opts for her son, Wayne. And from this point forward, just note I cannot promise to remain spoiler free. You are warned.
First and foremost, Joe Hill takes Christmas and sculpts an absolutely horrifying tale. In fact, I wondered where the Christ is in Christmas and how he could help these children, because despite what Mr. Manx believes, he is not out for the best interest of these children. In fact, it’s the opposite. Granted, he claims he has never harmed these children, but by merely taking these children for a ride in his vintage 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith, he keeps these kidnappings under wraps. Upon stepping into the car it also helps that it cannot be seen by the average eye too. His intentions are slowly revealed as one discovers that Mr. Manx’s car helps him transform these children into modern-day vampires and allows him to remain young,
Mr. Manx feels he is doing a good deed. He is keeping these children away from parents that will supposedly harm them eventually. The only reason we have to believe him is because of the garden, The Graveyard Of What Might Be, he uses to find his next child to “rescue” from harms way. He enlists many helpers along the years, but they are only with him for ten children a piece before they too can go to Christmasland. And the character he enlists in this particular story is a man who goes by the name of Bing. Bing is one of the more grotesque characters I’ve read about over the years, which says a lot considering I read a book that talked of people having sex with poop statues. He’s very much mentally deranged and the definition why talks of mental health is so important these days.
My biggest issue with this additional character is while needed to complete Mr. Manx’s grand plan, I feel the author focuses on Bing far too much. To me Bing is a secondary villain character that gets more of a leading role than the primary villain. I wish in many ways that Mr. Manx would was focused upon more. In many ways what makes him scary is being able to go from something completely innocent and sweet one minute and then speaking of burning down houses the next. He commits even the most horrendous crimes with a smile. And quite frankly that freaks me out more than someone standing over me with a gas mask, which is saying something considering Bing eventually rapes everyone he captures and takes back to the House of Sleep.
To be honest, part of my reason why I did not give this book a five-star review is honestly petty. I’ve even debated on going back and changing my rating, but I will explain why I cannot momentarily. My petty reason is that I’m overall a happy-go-lucky person who is still bitter that Vic had to die. Why is this petty? Because she had to die. NOS4A2 could not have ended with both of Wayne’s parents living. Vic had to sacrifice herself for her son or Lou had to sacrifice himself for his son. And let’s face it, most readers love dear little nerdy ‘ol Lou and we want the best for him just like everyone else in the novel. Had Lou died this would have been a severe disservice to Wayne.
So I stay torn. I know ultimately that this was the best option because Vic literally lost pieces of her mind by using The Shorter Way. She even explains to Lou that he might have to fill in the pieces one day and what kind of life is that for either of them? An unfair one.
My not so petty reasoning is how quickly everything wrapped up. I felt like Vic had quite literally run out of gas one moment and suddenly Lou was thinner and discovering how to truly make Wayne his again. But how did he know how to make his son truly whole again? How did he know to do this? Is it something he came up with on his own or did Vic give him a sign that this would be what is best? No one really knows, and considering this is not a movie adaptation but the book I want those details.
And to make matters worse, not that I did not think Lou deserved happiness, he is with the FBI agent, Tabitha Hutter, suddenly. Granted, they set it up that she would be his perfect match, so in a way readers know such is coming, but it felt far too soon despite knowing the last chapter takes place some time after Vic passes. In a way, the ending feels as if Mr. Hill gave his readers a neatly wrapped present, bow on top, to present a happy ending to a story that did not necessarily feel as if it should end on an entirely happy note. Of course, maybe my bias belongs to enjoying the alternate ending he chose not to go with more than the one he gave readers.
Overall, NOS4A2 is one of the most interesting and brilliant takes on vampires I’ve had the pleasure to read. Even with its flaws, this book is something that could, and should, lend itself to vampire lore over the years. Yes, there are moments that could be taken away, but there are also moments I yearned for as well, but at the end of the day Joe Hill constructs absolutely terrifying place that no one in their right mind would want to visit, yet alone take their children to. Alongside the details provided within these pages, Mr. Hill has constructed images that will plague his readers for some time. And quite frankly, these images also leave me wondering what could have been had he left the ending of his novel how he originally intended, but that’s another entry for another day.