You should know who Joe Hill is. Seriously. Hill is one half of the team that brought us Locke and Key (my bid for the horror comic of the century, seriously difficult to top), he brought us the delightfully twisted Heart-Shaped Box, and the exquisitely crafted collection of chilling tales 20th Century Ghosts. He is the son of horror legend Stephen King. Hill’s latest novel NOS4A2 is both a homage to his father’s legacy of chills and definitive statement that Hill is more than capable of standing not in father’s shadow but shoulder to shoulder.
NOS4A2 is a novel that, starting with its title, plays with your expectations. It is a big, monster of a novel that gets under your skin and tugs on your emotions. It is a novel about fear and innocence and the cruelty of youth shaken out and distilled into its most horrific and chilling form possible. It’s a novel about desire and need and how it leads us down paths both unexpected and dark. It’s a novel that will make your squirm in your seat. Nominally, this is the story of Victoria (Vic) McQueen who as a child manifests the ability to cross a bridge on her bicycle and find things that were lost. As a child this sees Vic crossing paths with a “man” known as Charles Manx who finds and takes children on rides in Rolls Royce to a place called Christmasland. The confrontation between Vic and Manx is one that neither forgets and sets the stage for the rest of the novel.
NOS4A2 will likely draw the attention of many King fans, there is a similarity and a structure the definitely resembles Hill’s father but at the same time there is a certain uniqueness to the work that stands apart. There is a constant feeling as I read this novel that it something could only have come from Joe Hill. While I smirked at references to Mid-World and a certain famous clown, I was equally amused to see references to Hill’s own previous work. In a splendid interview with the AVClub Hill refers to NOS4A2 as both his “senior thesis on horror fiction” and “underlying theory of everything.” The notion of the “Inscape” presented in NOS4A2 is the primary means through which this theory is presented. As one of the novel’s characters, Maggie Leigh, describes:
An inscape, a world of thought. In a world made of thought—in an inscape—every idea is a fact. Emotions are as real as gravity. Dreams are as powerful as history. Creative people, like writers, and Henry Rollins, spend a lot of their time hanging out in their thoughtworld. S-s-strong creatives, though, can use a knife to cut the stitches between the two worlds, can bring them together. Your bike. My tiles. Those are our knives.
The inscape, as presented in NOS4A2 is a place where all horrific things can stem from. The inscapes of NOS4A2 are both individual and universal, stitched together over time by the extraordinarily creative people who have quite literally bored holes through this inner reality. It is a fascinating concept and one that I would love to see Hill return to in the future.
As I said at the start there is no doubt that Hill’s work in horror in fiction will draw comparison to his father. NOS4A2 is simultaneously an acknowledgement of that fact and an impressive argument that Hill is his own man. This is horror fiction at its best, a novel that will keep you glued to your seat and reading into the wee hours of the night. If you like a good scare and want a novel that will leave you a tad unsettled long after you turn the final page NOS4A2 is the book for you.