Joe Hill’s “NOS4A2” was on my ‘to read’ list for a long time, but I’m not sure why. I’d only read “Heart-Shaped Box” previously and it didn’t necessarily leave me breathlessly excited to read more by Hill. (thougth it was a decent story) I think it may have been because I subconsciously assumed that it was antithetical to nu-vampire novels like “Twilight” and… well, I guess that’s the extent of my modern vampire novel knowledge. As a matter of fact, I don’t know about “Twilight”. I’m just assuming (again) that I wouldn’t like it. Therefore, I would like “NOS4A2”. (that’s weird logic, i know, but i learned proofs in math and haven’t looked back!) So, did that theorem hold up? Read on!
Vic McQueen has a bridge to lost things that only she can see/access. As a kid, she would ride her (boy’s) bike over it and recover lost bracelets and teddy bears and whatnot from hundreds of miles away from her home. One day, while being a pissy teenager, she went “looking for trouble” and her bridge brought her to Charles Manx, a kidnapper with a classic Rolls Royce with a “NOS4A2” license plate. She runs into a kidnappee (is that what you call a kid who’s been kidnapped?) who’s dry ice cold with fishhook shaped teeth. The kid doesn’t seem to want to be rescued by a 17-year-old, or anyone else for that matter. In fact, Vic ends up running for her life from both the boy and Manx. She escapes into the arms of Lou (or, more accurately, the “bitch seat” of his Harley). Manx is captured, imprisoned, and dies. Vic has a kid with Lou, her life implodes, and she is treated for PTSD and alcoholism. When she does finally get her shit together, she takes her kid for some mother/son time at her childhood summer vacation destination. That little happy reunion becomes an unimaginable nightmare when Manx returns from the morgue with a bone mallet and a gasmask-wearing henchman to kidnap her kid to bring him to “Christmasland” where it’s Christmas every day – Manx’s magical place that only he can see/access. Vic must summon her bridge to find her kid before Manx and his car suck the humanity (and warmth) out of him.
Hill is a fine storyteller. His tale of the ancient man vampirically feeding off of the negative thoughts and feelings of the children he steals is creepy as hell. And for a parent, a particularly hard-hitting subject. Vic is a broken woman who is willing to go far beyond physical and metaphysical limits to bring her son – the only good thing she feels she’s done with her life – back. The story has moments of beautiful tragedy. There’s a great example of that tragic beauty in a half-dreamed premonition that the boy has right before he is kidnapped, the full heartbreaking force of which doesn’t even hit home until later. I was brought to tears several times during this book. (i admit it. i’m comfortable with my sensitivity) Unfortunately, the book doesn’t quite reach greatness despite all of this. This is yet another story that could benefit from a capable editor that the creator trusts implicitly. (true for many films too) In the case of “NOS4A2”, this editor could have pointed out all of the repetition of words/terms. It makes sense for things like bones cracking and crunching (which happens a few times in the book), because bones crunch and crack. But we get several mentions of: Vic is a bitch, people spinning in the slipstreams of motorcycles, pain is transcendent, ears being mutilated, etc. Those things are very specific and are most powerful the first time we read them. After the 3rd or 4th time, the reader wonders if Hill needs to invest in a thesaurus. Whole chapters of the book could have been excised without losing the impact of the story. A move that would have tightened the pacing up and eliminated a bit of the almost (but not completely) tedious back-and-forth of Vic chasing after Manx. These criticisms aren’t deal breakers, but they’re nagging enough to have sucked (vampires!) some of the enjoyment out of this otherwise intense nail-biter.
The Final Cut: Hill has written a powerful story of a terrifying, possibly immortal man and the very mortal woman willing to sacrifice everything to get her son back from him. Unfortunately, the story is a tad overlong and would have benefited from a stronger editing hand.