Author: Joe Hill
Publisher: William Morrow
Length: 704 pages
Imagine a place where every morning is Christmas morning, and every night is Christmas eve. In the inscapes of the Colorado Rockies, there exists such a wondrous place, where snow covers the ground, and the laughter of innocent children fills the air.
Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things, and a vivid imagination. It takes her anywhere she wants to go, in no time at all. It should come as no surprise, then, that when Vic goes looking for trouble, she finds it faster than anyone.
Vic McQueen has been through a lot. As the only person to ever escape the notorious serial killer Charles Talent Manx III, people understand she’s bound to have a few issues. But when she starts answering phones that aren’t ringing and talking to dead children, ‘issues’ begins to seem like too light a word.
NOS4A2 is the third novel and fourth book by author Joe Hill. Previous works include the short story collection 20th Century Ghosts and the novel Heart-Shaped Box. His novel Horns has been adapted to film, and the movie, starring Daniel Radcliffe, is slated for release in October of this year. He has also authored a successful comic series, Locke & Key.
The commentary on social issues NOS4A2 presents is both timeless and timely. The ways Manx judges whether or not women are fit to parent their kids, or how they might someday ruin them all come from his own personal assumptions based on ignorant and outdated ideals, every one ending in pure and unadulterated misogyny. A woman with tattoos must be an attention-loving whore. A woman in cut-off jean shorts must be a whore. A woman who works in a bar is getting by on her looks, and when her own beauty fades, she will prostitute her daughter. This all shows just how old or traditional ideals aren’t always the best standards to go by. Just because a moral standard is old, doesn’t make it right. Times change, but one thing that doesn’t is that it’s never wise to pass moral judgment on another based on cursory information.
The way the issue of mental illness is treated in NOS4A2 is also noteworthy. We, as a society, are so ready to throw a diagnosis at people, then to medicate them to normalcy, that we don’t always take the time to slow down and listen to what a person is really saying. We get that first glimpse of something unusual, something unexpected, and we just stop listening. We apply a label of mental illness. Then, because of the stigma associated with that label, people become dismissive. No one wants to believe a fantastical-sounding story if it’s told by someone with mental illness, because, after all, they’re crazy. And crazy people can’t be victims, right?
Written with a deft pen and first-rate storytelling, NOS4A2 is Hill’s best work to date. Hill populates NOS4A2 quickly with familiar characters, then fleshes them out into truly distinct and complex personalities as the story progresses. The underdog protagonist, the antagonist you love to hate, and supporting characters both tragic and heroic fill page after page with people the reader can’t help but form bonds with.
Hill’s use of both foreshadowing and humor is flawless, building and releasing tension at a pace perfect for the arc of the story, right up to the very last page. A few simple formatting tricks add to the disorienting feeling of some scenes, although by the book’s end these start to become predictable, causing them to lose their ability to jar the reader’s nerves and detracting from the story instead of adding to it. The story is so easy to get back into, though, I hardly expect this to be a real problem. With descriptions so pure and poetic the reader can’t help but smell the library or the onion rings, NOS4A2 makes for a truly engrossing read.