NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (2013) is a horror novel that bears similarity to some of Stephen King’s work, which is probably why it ended up on my to-read list, along with The Passage by Justin Cronin (2010). The antagonist of NOS4A2, Charles Manx, is reminiscent of Pennywise the Clown of King’s IT: both vampirically stay young by kidnapping and feeding upon kids, and both warp happiness into horror, Pennywise with his clown suit and Manx with the trappings of Christmas. His lair, for lack of a better word, is Christmasland, a place outside of time and space where the children he has kidnapped are trapped and where it is perpetually Christmas. He takes them there in a vintage car that is essentially an extension of his own body called the Wraith.
Manx crosses paths with Victoria McQueen, “The Brat,” a tween who has discovered that she can find lost things by accessing a figurative and literal bridge between worlds. The encounter leaves her mentally scarred, convinced that she had imagined the bridge and the other supernatural elements she saw in Manx. But, of course, their paths will cross again.
Vic is an engaging character — flawed in significant ways but with a winning resilience and a comedically foul mouth. To survive, she must renounce what she cannot explain. Manx is spooky, certainly, but what truly haunts Vic is the supernatural phenomena she has witnessed and which threaten her sanity. As she says, “Already, though, she understood the difference between being a child and being an adult. The difference is when someone says he can keep the bad things away, a child believes him.” Vic learns, too early, that bad things can’t be avoided or prevented.
I liked, but didn’t love, this book. It hums along, and I was particularly drawn to the characters of Vic MacQueen and, later Lou Carmody. Charlie Manx and his minion, Bing Partridge, are less interesting, and for some reason I didn’t find the Christmas imagery to be particularly scary, perhaps because Christmas is already somewhat melancholy — or is that just me?