Oh yeah I have a blog! And since I woke up early, checked my bank account on a whim, saw that somebody had cashed an $800 check from it without me being involved, and now I am having hell of anxiety- before the Nevada tour, I can’t rememeber that last time I had $800 in my bank account- and waiting til the bank is open to go see if they will give me that money back, this seems like the perfect time to write in it.
So I just read Joe Hill’s NOS4A2. Y’know like Nosferatu as a vanity plate? I know that it is a terrible title, but speaking as someone who is partial to terrible titles (the working title of my next book is Keep The Piss Christ in Piss Christmas), I assure you: whatever. This is the best horror novel I’ve read in a really long time.
Before I get into it I want to tell you this: there’s a fucking intense scene where the tension is based around sexual assault/the threat of sexual assault, and so this book gets the ol’ rape culture tag and I can’t recommend it to you without qualification. I just want you to know. Oh also there’s some fatphobia, happy-ending-for-the-fat-guy-is-gastric-bypass-surgery stuff, although that character is three dimensional and interesting so in my opinion that wasn’t as intense as it could have been.
But if those aren’t a dealbreaker for you, and you like horror things? And Christmas monsters and cute demon children and magic bridges and stuff? IT IS SO GOOD.
Maybe you know that I have, like, a thing for Christmas. Maybe you don’t. Why would you. But I do! I fucking start playing Christmas carols on Thanksgiving and between the Christmas (Old Timey) and Christmas (New Timey) genre tags in my itunes thing, I have about a gig of Christmas mp3s… I guess it doesn’t sound like that much when you write it out. One damn gig. But I don’t think my first laptop even have a gig on it! I have a couple old laptops worth of Christmas music. Also I have a Love, Actually tattoo on my arm. It is a perverse relationship to Christmas but also a sweet uncomplicated one: I love a Christmas tree with little colored lights on it and snow outside and all that shit! Whatever, my point is just, I think that Joe Hill did a good job of taking the charge of feelings that comes from Christmas and making it a central creepy thing in NOS4A2.
I mean it is kind of a story about a vampire with a magic car but not really? It is kind of a story about a girl who can ride a bike or motorcycle to a bridge that fell in the water years ago that only exists in her mind which takes her to find things? And there is a dyke librarian who does, like, scrabblemancy. With a paperweight on her desk in the shape of a gun with “Property of A. Chekhov” inscribed in it, which shows up early on and comes into play in the fourth act. I don’t know man there’s just a lot of charming stuff here, especially if you’re a nerd maybe.
One thing that I think we’re not supposed to talk about- but which everybody always talks about- is that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s kid. I read a review somewhere where somebody was like “Joe Hill’s prose is tighter and less rambly than Stephen King’s, which makes it less scary,” which is fucking dumb. I mean, Stephen King is an obvious influence here, but Stephen King is an obvious influence on anybody who’se writing horror in 2013, it’s not like you can get away from him. And my thought while reading NOS4A2 was, like, this continual almost head-rush feeling of My god, this is everything that’s good about Uncle Steve without all the hokey dadisms and not-charming charm. Or whatever. Y’know, the stuff that’s been making us say for years that what Stephen King needs is a good editor? NOS4A2 reads kind of like what if Stephen King were having the best ideas of his life right now and had a good editor.
But not exactly like that. Joe Hill does this thing that as far as I know Stephen King has never done- and I’ve read a lot of Stephen King- where like, the tension will be getting thicker and thicker and piling on higher and higher until it seems almost unbearable, and then he’ll start describing characters or shadows or teeth or whatever in these creepy, impossibly long shadowed, almost cartoonish ways that put it over the top really effectively and all you can do is smile at how bad he’s got you in the palm of his hand.
I hated Joe Hill’s second book, Horns. I didn’t finish it. Something about it felt like he just… missed, with the cartoon stuff. It just kept piling on and feeling dumber and dumber, which I think is a risk you take when you write that way! And no matter how much I thought Horns was dumb, I appreciated that he was taking risks. And as I’m working on my own second novel and trying to figure out what kinds of risks are a good idea and what kind aren’t, I’m finding myself- especially in the context of how good NOS4A2 is- feeling really affectionate toward how much I hated Horns. I mean, I didn’t finish it and now I’m thinking maybe I should. There’s a used copy at Toadstool Books in town.
But anyway, when use the word cartoonish, I don’t mean it in a this-is-silly sense. I mean it like, here is the thing: horror is awesome. And horror is fun. And not to keep harping on the “hey you look like your dad” thing that nobody can ever shut up about with regard to Joe Hill, but it seems like Joe Hill gets that in a way that Stephen King never really did. The tall tale cartoon stuff isn’t dorky! It’s like, giddily replacing a child’s teeth with hooks and then having him live in a filthy Christmas tree. I don’t know if that reads as creepy to you out of context, but I feel like, in the context of a six hundred page novel or whatever, Hill gets giddy or vicious or sadistic in a way that I don’t think King- or any other modern horror writer I know about; comment with suggestions?- really gets.
Which isn’t to talk shit about Uncle Steve! Everybody says his Kennedy book was really good, but after reading all of Under The Dome and being like, “That’s it?” I’m a little less excited about his “people are the real monsters” thing and a lot more excited about Hill’s “monsters are the real monsters” thing.
MONSTERS ARE THE REAL MONSTERS