Book Club in Session: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2 HeaderLauren: If you’ve been keeping track of my reading habits (excluding comics), then you’ll be well aware that I have been going through a bit of a rough patch when it comes to enjoying my reading choices. With that in mind, I decided to go back to the last book I enjoyed, Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, choosing a book both similar in concept and written by someone in the same family.

Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 goes ahead and spells out the concept of this book right there in the title, if you know where to look.  Go ahead, sound it out.  Like Sk8er… I know!  It is awesome!  I just wish I had seen it before the book had to tell me about how to read the title…  But back to Nosferatu; playing along with the accepted mythology of the vampire, the villain of Hill’s book, Charlie Manx, travels around the US in a Rolls-Royce Wraith wearing this name on the license plate, kidnapping and stealing the lifeforce of children in order to maintain his own.  All except for Vic, the magical bike peddling girl that got away.

Oh, and one more thing: he’s obsessed with Christmas.

Heather: You didn’t understand how to read the license plate until Hill told you how to read it? Novice…

**Warning: This is a discussion. Spoilers littered throughout!**

I’m not sure Mr. Manx is obsessed with Christmas, per se, as much as with what Christmas represents for children (excitement, wonder, merriment, etc). Which makes me wonder, do you think Mr. Manx actually believes that he is helping the children truly rid themselves of the “bad” and returning them to their innocence, while simultaneously helping himself in some sort of symbiotic relationship, or do you think he is as malicious as he seems and just sucking the kids dry with little regard for what happens to them? I’m not really sure. A part of me believes he really does think he is doing a good thing for the kids, especially considering that his own two children have been taken to Christmasland with all the others. But then again, he is so manipulative in other ways, it is hard to believe that he isn’t just using them. Either way, Mr. Manx is surely an interesting character. I think it would have been great to get more of his backstory and learn about his life leading up to where he is now. He briefly delves into his tumultuous relationship with his wife, but it seems like there would have to have been an even more twisted and disturbing backstory to have shaped him into the monster he is today.

Lauren:  As far as I am concerned Mr. Manx’s mind is broken enough that I really don’t know how to read him.  I agree that knowing a little bit more about his origin and past would help clarify what he believes about what he is doing, but I’d imagine that when he started out he was convinced he was helping the children, especially since his two kids are there (and remember that he tried to save his remaining child when Christmasland was imploding, so he must still care for her).  We do know, however, that he has no regard for adult life and has the means to dispose of the bodies left behind, so taking kids to Christmasland seems like a lot of an effort if it isn’t something he feels is necessary.  Does he do it to help them live happily ever after?  Does he need their bodies holding on so that their lifeforce lives on in him?  After all, it is a place in his mind, so maybe this representation of their physical being still existing in Christmasland is how his mind has come to represent their lifeforce inside of him.

Clearly I have no idea, but what I will say is this: a villain who doesn’t see what they are doing is wrong and thinks the bad things they do are helping is scarier than a villain who knows he or she is bad.  Can we say Hitler, anyone?  Manx even convinced others to see things his way, as well.

Manx’s little helper Bing might actually creeps me out more than Manx does because Bing is the one carrying out most of the dirty work, and he believes that by raping the parents of Manx’s children after giving them a dose of mind altering gas (sevoflurane), he is actually giving his victims the opportunity for happiness before their deaths.

Heather:  Well, Bing is just a sick and twisted man clearly with some unresolved mommy issues. You are right, he is probably creepier than Mr. Manx, but he is also a million times dumber, and together the two are kind of like Pinky and the Brain. I don’t think Bing would ever have been able to carry out this sort of kid snatching/parent murdering operation on his own, both because he wouldn’t have been able to think of it on his own, and he would screw up the implementation of it anyway. I HATED Bing, which is why I thought it was awesome the way that he was killed off. When Vic was going after Mr. Manx and ran into Bing, I thought, “There is no way that Vic is going to be able to keep going,” considering she was already badly injured even before Bing gassed her and chucked her down the stairs of his house. But somehow she did. And Vic, who was hardly even conscious at the time, managed to send Bing to his demise by turning his bottle of laughing gas into an explosive rocket.

Which I suppose brings us to Vic.  What did you think of Vic as the hero of this story? And what did you think of her friend Maggie?

Lauren:  I was all for Vic as the hero towards the start when we were getting to know her as a child, but once she started going off the deep end I wasn’t so sure.  I have this problem with liking the goody goodies when it comes to heroes, from Superman, to Leonardo (the ninja turtle), to Optimus Prime, so it’s not always the easiest for me to be won over by those who seem to be jerks, especially considering how Vic treated her mom as a teenager.  But once she had matured a little more and we got to see her with Bruce Wayne, it was hard not to get behind her.

Like you said, there were definitely times when it got to the point where you didn’t think she could go on (thank goodness she had that protective motorcycle jacket on when Manx took the bone mallet to her abdomen or this would have been a really short book), so it always helps to have a story with odds much bigger than the person because that somehow excuses their ability to go on.  And yes, blowing up that horrible rapist also gets you some “we’ll look the other way for now” points.  I know I wouldn’t have been upset if she had lived in the end, even if that wouldn’t have been humanly possible.

As for Maggie, well… It’s hard not to feel bad for her.  She was like Vic’s Yoda when Vic came to her as a child, full of knowledge and mysterious powers, but instead of dying after teaching the person who will save the world, she became a drug addict psychotically protective of her library first.

Now that you have me thinking about Maggie I’m realizing how much I liked a bunch of the peripheral characters, from Maggie to Lou to Nathan Demeter (the guy who repaired the dead Wraith), but the one person I don’t quite get is Vic’s mom when she would come to Bruce while he was in the Wraith.  What was that all about?

Heather: Well before I get started on Vic’s mom, one thing I don’t understand is how Vic, Maggie, and Manx all have the abilities to cross over into their “inscapes” or the third dimension or whatever the heck they were doing – Maggie with her scrabble tiles answering her questions, Vic with her bridge leading her to lost things, and Mr. Manx and his magic car that served as a vessel to Chrsitmasland – but somehow Vic and Maggie suffer negative consequences (headaches, nosebleeds, fevers, and stuttering) while Mr. Manx actually seems to be healed every time he gets in his car. I guess the one thing Vic and Manx have in common, though, is that when their “vessels” are destroyed, they both died, since Vic died shortly after her bridge fell apart at the end. Of course that could have also been because of her extensive injuries.

As for Vic’s mom showing up at the end to guide Wayne, I don’t really know what to think about that. It seemed weird that she would be the one to appear considering neither Vic nor Wayne had a very close relationship with her… but I guess she was the only character in the book who had died so she was really the only choice they could have “brought back from the other side.”

Lauren:  You forgot about how the using the bridge effected Vic’s memory as well.  As for Manx, they made the argument that Manx losing his humanity was his downside, it just didn’t seem like he missed his humanity all that much.

I don’t think that you can say that the Wraith is to Manx as the Shorter Way Bridge is to Vic because it was her bike that was the “knife” that let her cut into the fabric of reality.  I’d liken the Shorter Way Bridge to Christmasland, but that’s just a technicality I guess.  And probably wrong; this all get’s kind of confusing when you think about it.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around these things.  For starters, this takes place in the same world that The Shining and Doctor Sleep do seeing as Manx mentions the True Knot, the villains of Doctor Sleep.  Many of the characters of those two novels didn’t need totems to help them see the future, find hidden objects, see ghosts, etc., so if we compare these two worlds it is possible that these items don’t actually have power so much as just these characters attribute these inexplicable abilities to an item to give them some permanence and physical representation in reality.  Does that make any sense?  Kind of like what I was saying about how Manx keeps the kids alive in order to have their lifeforce living inside of them.

I don’t know, I feel like I am reaching, and it all depends on how you want to interpret the idea that everyone has this power to bring their thoughts to life, it’s just most do it through writing, or drawing, or things like that.  Whereas these characters managed to take it to a whole different level.

With all that said, I did answer my own question about Vic’s mom.  If this book takes place in the same world as King’s two works, then grandma showing up to protect Wayne isn’t weird at all; it just seems out of place when you take this book as a standalone, not having read the other novels.

Heather: Even if the thing Manx was losing was his humanity, that still doesn’t really bring me any clarity about how the Wraith could supposedly heal him. But I suppose even though the car was a key component, the children were the ones that were helping inadvertently heal Manx, considering they were the ones the car/Manx were drawing their power from.

Lauren:  As far as I see it, the Wraith was just an extension of Manx.  There’s probably way more to it than that, maybe it’s an incubator or something and he has to be in the Wraith for the infusion of vitality to take place; point is, it’s the kids he pulls the life out of, the car is just his mode of transportation.  Not only that, but he needs someone else in the car with him to get to Christmasland because he would cross over when the passenger fell asleep.  I dunno, there are weird rules in this reality!

Heather:  You would think that once Manx died in the end, his whole “inscape” and all the children in it would have vanished along with him, but yet all those children were stuck in Christmasland until they were later “released” when Wayne’s dad Lou started destroying all the Christmas ornaments at the end.  I was getting afraid toward the end of the book that once Vic died, no one was going to remember to go back and destroy the Christmas ornaments that seemed to link these children to Christmasland.

Initially I was so happy when all the kids started appearing back in the “real world.” But then I thought, what are those kids going to do? A lot of their mothers or fathers were all murdered by Manx (or rather, Manx’s special helper), which essentially means that unless they have other family to take them in, they will be “put in the system” and realistically will probably bounce around from home to home, especially if they are at all damaged from their time in Christmasland. A lot of foster parents won’t know how to deal with that. So what initially seemed like a happy ending might not actually be one afterall. Manx has the last laugh even after he is dead!

Lauren:  What, you mean you wouldn’t want to adopt a child that spent decades playing scissors-for-the-hobo in a land decorated with parts of dead bodies?  Way to ruin a happy ending.  Usually I’m the glass-half-empty member of the family.

As far as the children are concerned, they weren’t in Christmasland anymore, remember?  As Christmasland fell apart Vic mentioned seeing one or more of the kids being pulled into this white nothingness, same as what the Wraith falls into when the Shorter Way Bridge implodes.  So when Wayne dreams of them later, they are not in Christmasland, but what he calls The White.  The way I see it, this staticky white nothingness is the thing that connects all of these “imaginary” lands together, and it cannot be destroyed.  Which is why they’re still around after Manx is gone.

If Manx is gone!  MWA HA HA!!!

Heather: I guess so, but I think if they were living only in his mind then they should have disappeared with him as well.

When all is said and done, I think this book explored an interesting concept, and although I enjoyed it, I doubt if I will read any more of Joe Hill’s books. I think my time would have been better spent on another book on my to-read list. Like Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan (which just happens to be what I am reading next)!

Lauren: Well we will just have to agree to disagree.  I can’t compare them quite yet seeing as I’ve only read one Hill book, but if this is any indication I might be alternating equally between father and son to get my horror fix from now on.

Heather: Psh. Stephen King is still the master. Granted I’ve only read one of his books (Salem’s Lot), but I know a good thing when I see it (or read it).

Lauren’s Final Rating: 4-4.5 out of 5
Heather’s Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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