With N0S4A2 (Nosferatu), author Joe Hill hems even closer to the odd, the weird and the often horrifying universe of his father, Stephen King.
This is a creepy, suspenseful novel of the supernatural, where a man in a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith kidnaps kids and takes them to a place he calls Christmasland.
Of all the holidays, Christmas remains my favorite, even if it’s lost all meaning. I love the decorations, I love the music (which is odd, because it’s so religious and I’m not very religious), I love the sweets and all the other food that goes with those 6 weeks that starts at Thanksgiving. Yeah, presents are great, but for me they pale next to the colorful lights, the sparkling tinsel, and the smell of pumpkin pie and gingerbread cookies (love the odor, but not a huge fan of the taste).
Here in N0S4A2, Hill gives us a very dark side to the holiday. Charles Manx has a totem, one that enables him to traverse our world to an “mindspace” dimension where Christmas exists all the time (ever since I saw the fourth Indiana Jones movie, the one with the aliens who don’t come from space, but from other dimension, the whole innerspace crutch seems a bit nonsensical to me, mostly because then the writer really does not have to explain too much about the internal logic of how a man and a car, or a girl and bridge can do what can be done in the this book). The Wraith, which could be the cousin to Stephen King’s Christine, exists here in our world, but is also able to open a doorway to Christmasland, where Manx drives them down the highways of his mind. It sort of preserves them in their young innocence, but it also sucks the life out of them during the car ride. What’s left of the children –empty husks, really – is stored away like cans of corn in the dark pantry of his demented mind. Thus, these kidnapped children now can live worry free life and never, ever be hurt by the outside world, or (the reason for Manx’s demented idea) by their parents. Much like Neverland, the kids never need to grow up.
For a long time, Manx has been able to do what he thought right, until he met a seventeen year-old girl in 1996, Victoria McQueen. Much like what Manx could do, when Vic was a child in the mid 1980’s, she was able to leave her squabbling parents behind, and with her Triumph bike and a magical bridge, she could go anywhere. First not understanding what it was she could do, Vic used the bridge to find lost things. But like any magical thing, it began to take its toll on her. But a near fatal accident put her trips behind her.
Until a decade later when a much troubled Vic uses her thoughts and her bridge that brings her into the contact with Manx and his able henchman (or Renfield, if you will), Bing. But Vic is able to escape, saved by a fat young man who will –as time moves on- becomes Vic’s lover that produces a son, Bruce Wayne Carmody.
Now, more than a decade later, Vic remains a troubled woman. She is damaged by her parents, her magical bridge and life in general. Despite this, she still loves her son Wayne and –though she seemed never to admit it out loud for a long time- Lou, the geek that saved her. But the past, much as the theme in many of his dad’s novels, never stays there, and Manx (caught and imprisoned and who died there, but was able to walk out even after his heart was removed) never forgot the one girl who got away.
But as much as Manx wants Vic to pay for what she did to him, his real target is her son Wayne, and an epic battle for control over the soul of a 12 year-old boy is about to begin.
It is clear that Joe Hillstrom King inherited his father’s droll, gothic style humor –that includes the rhyming Bing and stuttering Liberian who possess some version of what Vic and Charles Manx can do. And much like his dad, Hill is able to create wonderful, believable characters. We see Vic go from being a messed up kid, to a messed up parent and it all rings true. And Manx can come across, at times, as a sympathetic vampire. I mean he does horrible things in pursuant of his goals, but he is not evil in every sense of the typical horror novel tropes (and something King has done in his later novels as well , especially in Under the Dome where we meet Big Jim Rennie. He is a horrible person, but evil? And in 11/22/63, King paints Oswald much more human. Yes, he’s still a bitter man and a wife-beater, but was he evil enough to kill a president?).
Also, if Joe Hill is to be the next Stephen King, he seems to be fine with the comparison (he decided to use a pen name early in his career in hopes of getting published on his own merits, not his name. The story goes that not even his publishers of his story collection 20th Century Ghosts and his first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, was aware of his lineage until shortly before they were release), as he drops some references to his dad’s work, including a nod to The Dark Tower and the True Knot, the “vampires” that will take on Danny Torrance in this September’s long awaited sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep. Then again, this whole book is sort of rift on his dad’s ‘Salem Lot (which borrows heavily from both the classic silent film Nosferatu and Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and, as mentioned, Christine. And Hill also names a character after his mother, Tabitha.
It’s a bit over long, but the characters are strong and the story creepy enough to keep you reading. I’ll admit it kept me turning the pages. Again, the whole “inscapes” aspect leaves me feeling a bit unfilled with what it actually is, or was, but Hill’s abilities as a writer have grown. Heart-Shaped Box was a strong debut, and Horns (which will be a film starring Daniel Radcliff) –though a more conventional Twilight Zone tale- was still wonderfully mean.