NOS4A2: Nightmares and Past Terrors Run in the Family

For many years, one of the most prominent authors in horror literature has been Stephen King. For years, he has given the public powerful tales of horror, ones that explore fear not only through frequent supernatural threats but shows them against a window of real-world fears and anxieties. The Shining, for instance, tells a story that is just as much about a man grappling with alcoholism and self-destructive tendencies as it is about the haunted Overlook Hotel. However, there is a new talent emerging in the world of horror, and his name is Joe Hill. Not only does he offer a sharp knack for telling engrossing stories, I personally find that he is a better writer than King. That doesn’t mean that I think Stephen King is a bad writer, not at all. I find, however, that Hill has a better grasp of his craft and a more skillful use of language. This strength in writing is already evident in the works he has released, such as the novel NOS4A2.

At a young age, a girl named Vic McQueen finds that she has a gift. By focusing with her bike, she can ride through a world known as the Inspace to find those things which are lost. It’s a gift that has a price for its users and, while using her gift, she runs afoul of Charles Manx. Charles has a similar power, except he channels it into his car. With it, he takes children to a mystical land called Christmasland, a place that can leave children in a monstrous state of innocence while taking their souls and keeping him young. Vic manages to not only escape his capture, however, but even get him caught by the authorities. Later in life, after having gotten married and having a child of her own, Vic finds that the past is not quite done with her. Manx has returned and has come for her child as revenge. Now, with the fate of her son on the line, Vic finds that she must return into the Inscape one last time to finally settle this.

Firstly, the novel is a strong work of horror on its own basis. It offers engaging characters who navigate the horrific path that unfold for them, along with having a strong antagonist in the form of Charles Manx. He is a figure of pure menace, a sort of vampire who speaks with a formal tone twinged with country phrases. His actions offer a creepy interpretation of innocence, noting how it can mean doing horrible things and laughing about it because you don’t know any better. In fact, he serves as a kind of example of a recurring theme in the novel: namely, the danger in idealizing perfection and innocence in an imperfect world. Among his many features, Manx shows a major displeasure towards swearing and sexuality. In addition, the children that he “saves” by taking them to Christmasland gains bodies that are ice cold, have rows of sharp teeth, and a disposition to playing games that kill and torture others. In contrast, characters like Vic McQueen are flawed characters who acknowledge their flaws and try to be the best people that they can. Even if they can’t be perfect individuals, even if they are chained by the problems that have haunted them, they try to be the best that they can with who they are. As for the writing itself, it’s another strong example of the talent and skill that Joe possesses.

Now, I mentioned before that I do consider Joe Hill to be a better writer than Stephen King. It’s time I clarify exactly what I mean. Firstly, I do consider King to be a good writer. He has strong ideas for his stories and offers plenty of fascinating character studies to go along with his scares. However, he does possess certain flaws that do not plague Joe’s work. For one, I find that King does suffer from having too many tangents in his work. He’ll explore a side element to great detail, to the point that it feels like it has gone off-course from the main story at hand. Joe, on the other hand, can handle a tangent in a way that moves quickly and still connects to the main story. For example, a chapter that has its focus on a character named Lou Carmody not only offers more insight into him, it still impacts and factors into the story at hand. Along with that, King can be a bit blunt in his description of a character or place, offering a good image but in a plain fashion. Joe, meanwhile, has a better mastery of language, playing with the rhythm of a sentence or the description of a scene. The result is that he is able to conjure a great image of a scene or character, even better than the good if simple approach taken by his father.

I know it may be bold to say that Joe Hill is a better writer than his acclaimed father, but his work is a testament to the skill and mastery of writing that he possesses. He may have one collection of short stories and three full-length novels currently, but he is still working on more books, with his next one (called The Fireman) currently scheduled to be released in early 2016. If he continues to put out excellent novels like NOS4A2, I feel that he’ll reach the same heights of acclaim that his father has achieved.


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