Wednesday, June 5, 2013


ISBN-10: 0062200577
ISBN-13: 9780062200570
Published: William Morrow, 04/30/2013
Pages: 704
Language: English
Horror fiction is a tricky business, and most of its successful practicioners lean heavily on atmosphere and existential dread: Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker come to my mind. It's rare to find a scary, nasty piece of work like NOS4A2 that more or less eschews portent or vague mentions of Nameless Ones and still delivers the goods. NOS4A2's villains have recognizable psychological motivations and author Joe Hill takes pains to show the world from their  point of view. It's a very human approach to apply to characters that are, in a literal sense, only humanish, and it pays dividends in scares. In Hill's world, evil is brutish, backwards, and stupid, but no less terrifying.

By the way, in case you missed the significance of the title, it's a sort of numerical pun spelling out "Nosferatu," the German word for vampire. Hill is also paying homage to the silent film masterpiece of the same name, a kind of foundational text for horror that dared to depict a monster head-on, relying on very early but enduring make-up effects and a strange propensity to empathize with the rat-like bloodsucker. I can't help but go all English major up in here and reach for parallels between the film Nosferatu and the cheekily named book, which both disprove the notion that only the unseen and inexplicable are frightening. I could follow this thread until I get to a bunch of "banality of evil" nonsense, but I'll save you the trouble and simply argue that NOS4A2 is a highly entertaining, book-long refutation of Hitchcock's famous line: "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it." One hates to disagree with a master, but he was only half-right: bangs are pretty scary, too.

Plus, Hill is a very gifted prose stylist and master craftsman of nail-biting set pieces. Like his father, Stephen King-- I went as long as I could without mentioning him, because Hill himself has tried very hard to stay out of that particular shadow-- Hill is ambitious and blackly comic, but, unlike his father, he rarely seems self-indulgent. Hill's 700-page horror epic somehow comes off as lean and enjoyable despite its length and the repeated emotional gut-punches he delivers to the reader. Putting a likeable heroine through the wringer turns out to be as effective a plot device as ever, so buckle up if you're at all squeamish. Oh man, I've written all this without even mentioning NOS4A2's particularly harsh take on Christmas tradition or Hill's fantastic comic series Locke and Key!? I suppose I'll have to do what Stephen King has refused to do his entire career: practice some restraint.

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