Books of 2013 #20: NOS4A2, by Joe Hill

By my count, NOS4A2 marks the first author repeat of the year: Hill also wrote Book #7, Horns, which I wrote about back in February. The broad praise I had for Hill three months ago stands; in fact, I’ll double down. With NOS4A2, he really takes it up a notch in terms of storytelling and creating that all important “ripping good yarn” that keeps you up past your bedtime reading just one more chapter.

I’m not really sure how much I can tell you about this book without spoiling anything for you; it’s been discussed as sort of a modern vampire story, but it owes little to the bloodsucking tradition beyond the titular pun. Mostly, it concerns the life of a woman named Vic, who, as it turns out, has a curious ability to find things using a special shortcut bridge available, apparently, only to her. A parallel narrative exists regarding someone else with some special abilities, though his are far darker; Hill deftly intertwines the stories to create a far more complex narrative than you typically enjoy with something that might get labeled “genre fiction” by those obsessed with, well, labeling things. More than a few times you sort of feel the story going in a predictable direction for a moment, only to be surprised by how Hill carries the story into a new and interesting direction.

Here Hill also amuses the astute reader with countless allusions — both to his dad’s work (Vic’s shortcuts themselves, for example, harken back to the elder King’s short story “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut,” from 1985’s Skeleton Crew collection) and to others. I think my favorite nod was to David Mitchell, whom Hill is on record as regarding as the finest novelist of their generation. If you’re a fan of Mitchell, you can’t miss it.

Obviously the larger shadow is that of King himself, though. It’s here, for sure, and not just in the allusions Hill sets up. The villain, Charlie Manx, at times feels like someone who could’ve been written by the old man. The idiot minion certainly does; both King men seem to have a solid line on building convincing inner monologues for various kinds of creepy and dangerous guys. I saw this first in Horns, with Lee, and again in a different way with Bing. This isn’t a bad thing at all, and it doesn’t make these books any less Hill’s own — writing horror in a post-King world means having been exposed to King’s versions of these characters, some of them morally ambiguous (The Stand‘s Lloyd Henreid, or the childlike Trashcan Man) and some clearly not (Randall Flagg, or more mundanely the various bullies who haunt much of his work). Hill isn’t being derivative here; he’s definitely doing something of his own — but it rhymes with his dad’s work, so to speak. And given his dad’s success, this can only be a compliment.

Given that my to-read pile already includes one of his dad’s latest books, and that his brother’s new book is also getting raves, I think it might be fun to shoot for the family trifecta in this little reading project.

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