Friday, June 14, 2013

Joe Hill Rolls NOS4A2 Down The Road

Charles Talent Manx has a gift. He can travel roads that almost nobody knows like The Night Road, Gumdrop Lane, and St. Nicholas Parkway. He can find the dreamlike destinations  Lovecraft Keyhole, Pennywise Circus, and Christmasland. And as long as he keeps his pristine 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith gassed up on misery and in mint condition, he can save children from futures filled with abuse and malcontent.

For better than 100 years, he has done exactly that. He peruses their futures, discerns their fates, and conspires to snatch them up before any additional harm might happen. He is a savior and eternal  benefactor, hellbent to return and preserve their innocence forever — about ten kids with every run.

It's a tough job, but Manx finds the rewards well worth it. His children, those he saves, are treated to cocoa every day and presents every morning — a never-ending Christmas Day with costumes, games, and amusements. It's a place so miraculous that the price of admission hardly seems to matter.

Charles Manx owns a vanity plate. It reads NOSA42. 

Manx isn't the only person with the talent. Small town librarian Maggie Leigh can see into the hidden spaces any time she plays Scrabble. Victoria McQueen can shortcut her way across the countryside on a Raleigh bicycle. And even Bing Partridge, who doesn't possess any supernatural ability, performs his own brand of magic with a gas mask and gingerbread smoke.

1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith
It's these special talents that draw them all together. Partridge makes the perfect elf for Manx, although he prefers to see himself like a solider with a chest full of medals. Leigh makes a less-than-perfect seer for McQueen, who uses her bicycles to find anything and everything from lost bracelets to child abductors.

It's the latter talent, in fact, that sets Manx and McQueen on a collision course. After a fight with her mother, McQueen wants to find some trouble and the shorter way bridge doesn't steer her wrong. It opens the way to Sleigh House, a halfway house of sorts for Manx and his wayward children.

The Sleigh House was a cottage, surrounded by pines and decorated year round for Christmas. The music playing on the radio was always the same, Burl Ives with Holly Jolly Christmas or something similar. The always-present aroma of turkey dinner wafted in air. And the boy she spied in the backseat of the Wraith seemed pleasantly content until McQueen leaned in a little closer.

He didn't look like any boy she had seen before. His face was lunar in the its paleness. His eyes were hollow. His veins were black and seemed to crawl beneath his skin. His hair was the color of frost. And although he warned McQueen away when she first approached him, he turned gleeful as soon as he could hurt her and call for his abductor. Manx was almost merry to learn someone wanted to find him.

A couple of graphs about author Joe Hill and his supernatural story.

Joe Hill
Joe Hill finds a new voice with NOS4A2, taking on a tone that is much simpler than his earlier work and, at times, sounds like it is written for a young reader audience despite the adult content. It's part of the mechanism that makes the novel creepy in between bursts of fast-paced suspenseful prose.

Everything about NOS4A2 balances sickly sweet and terrifyingly abrupt, a feat few authors could reach. Hill also does his best to take the romance out of vampirism, which is good, and hurls some of his own feelings about what he calls the over-commericialism of Christmas by bending Manx's idealization of it and innocence around full circle into a dark and horrific place with painted on smiles.

Although most people know he is the son of Stephen King, he originally chose the pen name Joe Hill (shortened from Joe Hillstorm King) to succeed on his own merit. His early successes include comics and short stories. His first novel was Heart-Shaped Box, published in 2007.

NOS4A2 By Joe Hill Rides 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While not as strong as his debut, Heart-Shaped Box, but better received than his underrated novel Horns, NOS4A2 is an epic-length novel without an epic story. At the same time, it doesn't really matter because the story is enjoyable all the same, mostly because Hill has mastered the art of constructing scenes that people care about. You almost can't help but to want one more.

NOS4A2: A Novel By Joe Hill is available from Amazon or you can order the book from Barnes & Noble. It can be downloaded for iBooks and the audiobook is brilliantly read by Kate Mulgrew. Hill handpicked her to read the audio edition, which could be the best narration casting decision of the year. Mulgrew gives McQueen a pained likability, an extra dose of dimwittedness to Partridge, and a near Charles Burns-like sound to Manx.
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