“NOS4A2” was a really weird book – not that I would expect anything less from Joe Hill. He has a distinctive way of looking at the world. He creates characters that provoke pity and disgust more than anything else and then turns them into the good guys. His ability to completely envelope your senses with his words made NOS4A2 a real page-turner. It was hard to pull myself out of that world. Even though I finished the book several months ago I still find my mind wandering to Vic and wondering “what if”. NOS4A2 was an intense read.
When we first meet Vic, she is introduced as “The Brat” and this is right before Vic discovers her ability to travel in a non-traditional manner. She uses the Shorter Way Bridge almost as a portal to find things. After several trips across, she wants to find someone to explain this ability to her, someone to confirm that she isn’t losing her mind. That is when Vic meets Maggie. “There’s the real world, with all its annoying facts and rules. In the real world, there are things that are true and things that aren’t. Mostly the real world s-s-s-suh-sucks. But everyone also lives in the world inside their own head. 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 creative, 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.” (NOS4A2, pg 100). I really liked this quote for several reasons. One, it paints a clearer picture of how Vic is able to do what she does with the Shorter Way Bridge. Secondly, I can totally relate. No, I don’t have a knife to cut stiches between the words, but as a creative individual I experience my own version of a powerful inscape. Joe Hill eloquently describes this other level of consciousness that many people experience – he puts a name on it, he makes it make sense.
While Vic is the protagonist of our story, the antagonist and the nicknamed NOS4A2 is Charles Manx. He is vampire-esc in his behavior and his knife is a car. He uses his car to “save” children, or at least that is how he explains it. He makes for a very creepy bad guy and his ability to recruit Bing just confirms how powerful and influential Manx is. Bing didn’t question, he just followed, worshipped, adored, and obeyed. Bing was his own kind of creepy and together Manx and Bing are a whole new kind of evil.
What I really enjoyed about NOS4A2 was how much of an anti-hero Vic is. We meet her as a kid and it is clear that she comes from a dysfunctional family. She uses her ability to spend time traveling through her inscape to get away from her reality. In doing so, she convinces herself that what she is doing is not real. As she becomes a damaged adult, she blames it on her parents and her own mind. “She had crossed the bridge almost a dozen times in five years, and always it was less like an experience, more like a sensation. It was not a thing she did, it was a thing she felt: a dreamy awareness of gliding, a distant sense of static roaring. It was not unlike the feel of sinking into a doze, easing herself into the envelope of sleep.” (NOS4A2, pg 79). I think the way that Vic felt about the whole experience helped her bury the memories. I like the way that she describes the experience. And one of the most challenging things for Vic is facing this reality and accepting it as fact.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – but only to a certain kind of reader. NOS4A2 is an intensely weird book, and at times it was on the border of ick. Even I got a little squeamish. This is not a book for everybody. But if you like weird, and you like Stephen King, then you’ll love Joe Hill. Like father, like son. I’m looking forward to reading more of Joe Hill’s works and I happen to have another in my personal library as we speak. This was a very enjoyable and intense read – not for the faint of heart.