Book Review: NOS4A2

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

It’s been a busy almost-two-months, but I finally managed to squeeze in all 19 hours and 41 minutes of Kate Mulgrew’s narration of NOS4A2 by Joe Hill. I picked up this title as one of my monthly credits with my Audible subscription, because Kate Mulgrew and Joe Hill are both badass. My boyfriend read Horns and we both watched the movie together. The rawness of it blew my mind. He said all Joe Hill’s stuff was like that. My boyfriend also tore through Locke & Key, a graphic novel series by Joe Hill. Loved it so much, he asked for the books for Christmas (and I ordered a replica of one of the many keys from the series, now displayed on his bookshelf alongside his Serenity model Yatzee case). Joe Hill is a favored name in our household, and actually he’s the son of Stephen King. We laugh that it’s probably good he didn’t take his father’s last name, because who could take him seriously?
We also both enjoy Kate Mulgrew’s acting. I first got to know her as Captain Janeway, her role on Star Trek: Voyager. Now I love her to pieces as Red on Orange is the New Black. My boyfriend had already read N0S4A2 before I started, and between the blurb and the news that Kate was narrating, I asked him if it was a good choice.
“Well, the main character is a woman, just at different ages through her life, so yeah.”
So I bought it, and I also picked up the Kindle version so I could use Whispersync. It was a great purchase, because it really helps me maintain focus on the story and keep pace. You can read more about why I enjoy Immersion Reading in my June entry.
Starting out, I found it novel and enjoyable to hear Kate read Joe’s salty language. He doesn’t pull any punches. It’s definitely not a book for kids. Her voices for the different characters are great. I quickly got a sense for who they each were. This is something she maintains for the entire novel, and something that Hill writes into the descriptions. For example, one of the characters starts speaking, and Kate uses a British accent, and for a moment you’re thinking, “That’s a strange way to differentiate this character.” Then a few pages later, Hill describes the character and you realize Kate’s accent was spot on. She works a full range of Midwest, Boston, creepy elderly villain, mentally handicapped adult, Indian, Russian; the list goes on.
Enough about her performance; let’s get to the story. I went into this one expecting it to be rough and it didn’t let me down. There’s violence of all kinds. The antagonist is an elderly man of unknown years by the name of Charlie Manx. He’s psychotic and gifted, and he snatches up children from troubled homes to deliver them to his sanctuary, Christmas Land. He recruits a single righthand man to dispose of the parents so no one knows to search for him. They ride off into this hidden world in a Rolls Royce Wraith with the license plate NOS4A2. There’s something special about that car.
There’s something special about the Raleigh Tuff Burner bike. Something special about the bag of Scrabble tiles. These items, you’ll learn about in the book, each come with special abilities that can only be used by their owners. It’s a setting mechanic that excites me, because I love to imagine what other items might exist and what powers they have. That’s a sign of a good book, when the setting inspires a dozen other daydreams.
Not to give anything away, but you know when there’s a creepy kidnapper in a story, the entire plot is based around stopping him and rescuing the children.
The whole story felt like what might have happened if Stephen King wrote The Lost Room. If you haven’t seen that series, GO! NOW! There is definitely King influence in Hill’s story. He sets up a world that’s part supernatural, part psychological. Anything is possible, because thoughts become real. For one moment, this book references a few King novels, and says that all these things are part of the same world, so in the same way that werewolves and vampires end up in the same settings together, so too might Mr. Manx and Pennywise. How seriously scary is that?
And let’s not forget our rad protagonist, Victoria McQueen. She’s everything you hope for in your antihero. Tough, brave, resourceful, determined, but also vulnerable and struggling with her own self-worth. She’s so very human. As the story progresses, you watch her grow from a bratty, young girl into an independent, experienced woman. I’m sure Hill described her much earlier in the book, but when I got to her teenage years, Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice became my headcanon.
Around the middle of the story, there’s a couple chapters where it loses some cohesion. Too many arcs have been introduced and left unresolved. I promise, all the loose ends reconvene eventually. This novel is sure to make you gasp, clench your fist, gag a bit, laugh, possibly cry, and if you grew up in the ’90s it might even give you some nostalgia too. I’m only giving it a 4 out of 5, because it does seem to need some glue to hold things together. The plot has a dreamlike congruence at times. I’m sure it’s intentional. As a writer, you want to ask “What are my characters feeling, and how can I make my readers feel the same way so they can relate?” Well, if you want us to relate to Vic’s line between delusion and reality, mission accomplished.
If you like a story with a strong female lead that teeters on the edge of supernatural horror and psychological thriller, you’ll enjoy NOS4A2.


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