Filled with imagination and great zeal, Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 is one I wish I’d read a long time ago. There was no excuse for neglecting it, as my friend and fellow writer, Evans Light, had generously sent me a hardcover copy in 2013 or ‘14. If I’d know then that Vic’s journey would, in some ways, become entangled in my own, maybe things would have been different. But, of course, that’s a big maybe, and I’d have it no other way. Why? Because being privy to such details, even minor spoilers, can alter the experience; steal its magic. Also because there’s a time and place for all, and they happen for a reason.
With the exception of a scattering of generalized observations, I’ll say no more: the prologue introduced one half of the antagonists, and not only was he one of the creepiest villains I’ve had the displeasure of meeting, but the way that Hill structured it was deeply memorable and distinctive.
Jumping to what was at that time present tense, and alternating between past, present, and future (I appreciate some good flash-forward sequences,) fully immersed the reader in the intricacies of Victoria “the Brat” McQueen’s fantastical world. The immense power of the imagination (both as a recurring theme and Hill’s narrative,) was on full display over the course of the novel’s six hundred and eighty-six pages. There were also implications of the scientific power of the imagination, as evidenced by Vic and Charlie Manx’s astounding abilities, as well as his cohorts.
What followed was an adventure I hope to never forget. One fraught with childhood trauma, hope, and fear; with excitement, the uncanny, and tragedy. Over time, it transcended the adventure story (a la Lord Of The Rings,) and became an actual journey. Vic’s journey. Not in the the sense of time spent or leagues traveled, but more so about her character arc. It was the epitome of a classic coming-of-age tale, one that surely, only Joe Hill could write, and write well.
It was all of those qualities, and much more.
However, there were too many similarities to Hill’s father, Stephen King, to overlook. It was evident in the writing style, word choice, and syntax. They all rang true to King. The imaginative worlds and grand concepts were also reminiscent of something King might write. They weren’t mere similarities, either; in some instances, there were unabashed references to several iconic works: The Dark Tower, UR, Cujo, It and Christine, amongst others.
More jarring than the eerily similar concepts and references was the masterful precision and style of his father. To make my point, consider this: if one didn’t know the identity of the author, or if one were blindly listening to Kate Mulgrew’s narration, would one know the difference? I know I wouldn’t.
In complete fairness, it’s possible that I’m being too analytical, or conspiracy-driven, but I’m not the only one with said reservations. And I can’t control my feelings. Were they enough to take
me out of the story? Yes, but only slightly. I still loved it. It was incredibly addictive. The prose was beautiful, twisted, and profound. Many of the characters were quirky and fully developed.
Wildly inventive. Magical. Teeming on the edge of madness, both in the literal and figurative sense, so the reader never knew what was up, down, or sideways.That only began to describe the enigma which was NOS4A2.
“It sounded like delusion until you remembered that people made the imaginary real all the time: taking the music they heard in their head and recording it, seeing a house in their imagination and building it. Fantasy was always only a reality waiting to be switched on.”
Regardless of those constructive criticisms, the good far outweighed the less than ideal. I wouldn’t say “bad” because the prose was so masterful and fluid. The creativity involved, as well as a wealth of knowledge which screamed veteran professionalism, was unceasingly awe-inspiring; mesmerizing. The characterizations were exquisite. Rarely does one find an author who writes with such compassion and respect for the craft, which was-again– very reminiscent of King. Assuming that Hill did, in fact, pen this one, I’m inclined to believe he writes slight better than his father. To say the least, his endings are not necessarily better, but stronger. No disrespect to Steve–I love his work, but one area where he’s kind of fallen flat historically (there were some exceptions, admittedly,) was his endings.
According to Hill’s afterword, his mother, Tabitha King, served as a beta reader, and it was her suggestion which led to a significantly stronger and, I’d imagine, original denouement.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder how much more creative, original, and dignified NOS4A2could’ve been if he’d omitted a few of the aforementioned familial references, and embarked on developing a lore all his own.