Wednesday, December 04, 2013

N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

Backtracking a bit, here.  I read N0S4A2 by Joe Hill in October and I think the reason I likely did not review it immediately has to do with the fact that it scared the bejeebers out of me and I just wanted to freaking forget Christmasland, but I'm over it, now.

N0S4A2 (besides being a pain-in-the-butt of a title to type) is a chunkster at nearly 700 pages, and I tend to shy away from chunksters.  However, I absolutely loved Joe Hill's short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts.  Oh, wow, look at that link.  I read 20th Century Ghosts way back in 2007, before it was published in the U.S.  Believe it or not, I have not yet managed to get the creepy Button Boy character from one of those stories to exit my mind.  So, I resisted Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.  I just wasn't ready for that level of creepy to return to my world.  Much as I adored Hill's writing and the inventiveness of his stories, I preferred the ghosts and time travel to horror and horror is the road he seems to prefer. And, yet, I knew I was missing some very fine writing by resisting.

N0S4A2 is about Vic, a girl who can travel wherever she wants to go by biking quickly across a wooden bridge. Even after the bridge ceases to exist, it remains in her imagination so she can still go there; it's her special skill to travel via the map within her mind. There are others who have a similar ability and one of them has created a terrifying world called Christmasland.  He is basically a mass-murdering vampire who is convinced that he's doing kids a favor by taking their undead bodies to this bizarre place and killing their families.  Vic, of course, has to save the world from the bad guy.  

Okay, wait, I think I know why I put off reviewing the book (well, another reason). There's a lot to this story.  And, of course, it's not fun mentally revisiting the gore. Why did I keep reading?  Because Joe Hill knows how to create characters a reader really cares about.  But, N0S4A2 is extremely bloody and I confess that I'm surprised I made it all the way through the book, in spite of the incredible characterization and some pretty rocking fine storytelling. And, I'm glad I did hang in there; it does have a knockout ending. I marked a passage to remind me that I thought one of Hill's influences, in this case (he has a tendency to make sly references to books, movies and real people) was the movie The Great Escape. He sprinkled numerous hints to that effect and then actually used the words "our great escape" (to which I said, "Ha!" aloud).  

Recommended particularly to readers who love horror.  Joe Hill is a tremendously skilled and imaginative writer; I admire his ability to create such wonderful and awful characters.  But, the book was too bloody for me.  

The ending of N0S4A2 is exciting and sad and a huge relief at the same time so I'm glad I got to the point of resolution because, damn, that evil bad buy needed killing in a big way.  But, I do think I'll likely avoid Joe Hill in the future until/unless he gets around to writing an unbloody time travel novel in the Jack Finney vein.  One of the stories in 20th Century Ghosts was clearly an homage to Finney and I personally think he could write a brilliant time travel, although I hope he doesn't go wildly overboard as I think his father did with 11/22/63 (personal opinion - loved the time travel; thought the romance was dull).  

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  1. I'm so scared of this one. I loved 20th Century Ghosts, but Heart Shaped Box scared the crap out of me. lol

    1. It's more gross than scary, although it does have a few really frightening moments. Or, maybe I've just been away from it long enough that I remember the blood more than the rapid heartbeat. I'm just going to reread my favorite 20th Century Ghosts stories till he comes out with that time travel book, which I'm going to try to will into existence by thinking at him very hard.

  2. I have heard a lot about Joe Hill but never read him myself... Maybe one day...

    1. If/when you do, go for 20th Century Ghosts instead of a novel. It gives you a broader view of his writing. There's some horror but not quite as much (although the creepy stuff is Super Creepy, as in nightmare-inducing).


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