12 July 2013


It's gotta be tough being Stephen King's kid.

I mean, you have the creepiest dad at school, everyone knows you have money, and now that you've taken up the family business of horror novel writing, the expectations must be practically unattainable.  Not to mention that Dear Ol' Dad is still cranking out books of his own!
Come on, Joe.  
Scare me more.

To be honest, I didn't know that Joe Hill was a King when I first heard about NOS4A2 (Nosferatu, pronounced "Nos-four-ah-too" like the silent-era German film).  In fact, I was about two-thirds of the way through the novel before a friend told me, "Oh yeah!  That book by Stephen King's son!"  Now THAT makes sense.


1. New England places abound: Haverhill, Lake Winnepesaukee, Dover, Hampton Beach.  And of course I can envision all of these place vividly.... not so much because of descriptions in the novel, but because I KNOW these places.  And King often places his own narratives in Maine, or New England.  Write about what you know, right?

2. Over and over through the course of the first 400 pages, I thought, "Wow, this writer really captures so much of the essence of Stephen King's horror style. If King is the king, Hill is the crown prince!  The influence is so obvious.  Not quite as good as King, but this is a great effort."  And when one character remarks that a particularly evil felon is incarcerated "in Shawshank," (p.387) I almost nudged my sleeping husband awake to say, "OMG, this guy loves Stephen King so much he wrote in an homage to Shawshank!"  Because I "got it," you know?

3. One of the key characters is named Tabitha.  Um, yeah.

But UNLIKE King, even though Charlie Manx is creepy, and Bing the "Gasmask Man" is creepier, and even though I read nearly all of the book at night, I wasn't the nauseating horror I've felt reading other King novels.  The fear doesn't go as deep, and I didn't feel as trapped by these characters (to me, Annie Wilkes in Misery is MUCH scarier).  My husband says that good Stephen King gives him "daymares."  No daymares from this one.  Maybe the whole Christmasland thing was a little bit too charming, a dark version of Santa's Village in the White Mountains.  

Joe Hill is on the right track, but still needs to work out some kinks with character development.  Hill throws in rather big details about characters "late in the day."  Why does Charlie Manx tell us about his "first wife"... and leave it at that?  What is the point of Mr. de Zoet's WWI model of the Battle of Verdun (p.271)?  Was the hospital guard sodomized during the attack on him... or wasn't he?  Why casually drop "Walking Backward Man" or "the True Knot" (p. 511) as characters - but just their names, nothing more?  Even more irksome for me: why bother telling me that Maggie Leigh is a lesbian just pages before she's killed off?  I think she was a well-written and very appealing supporting character, flawed but inherently good. In fact, I wish she had had even more presence in the narrative beyond her interactions with Vic McQueen. And you know, her sexual orientation isn't problematic for me at all.  But it isn't relevant either - it doesn't matter whether she's gay or straight, so why bother bringing her sexuality into the tale? Why define her that way?  Rather than "too little too late," it was "too big, too late" for me.

I enjoyed the investigators discovering Manx's "roads" and his skewed map of America (p. 403), but in that moment we're introduced to many locations that don't play a part in this book.  I would LOVE to know what the Pennywise Circus is, up in Bangor.  We're shown it on the pictorial map, but it's just a place name.  We know nothing more.  That's frustrating to me as a reader.

Lastly, I think NOS4A2 was longer than it needed to be.  It could have been edited back by about 25% and I think it would have been just as effective.  Maybe moreso.

Regardless of these criticisms, it captured my imagination, and I blew through the nearly 700 pages in just days.

Now, Hill definitely left the door cracked open at the end of the book for sequels (read the Note on the Type.... ha ha), plus there's all those monstrous minor characters who could appear - maybe Hill will rewind the clock a la Walking Backward Man, creating other tales that access the magical, sinister world that Vic and Manx and Maggie are able to enter.

Keep at it, Joe Hill.  Take me to the Pennywise Circus.  I want to go. Don't pull your punches; I want you to scare me half to death on the journey.


  1. I tried reading Stephen King twice - "Salem's Lot" was too close to home and "Night Shift" started out with rats. But, that was a very, very long time ago. I'm about to give Joe a try. Wish me luck.

  2. Good luck! If you want to give Papa King another try, I think "The Stand" is just awesome. DH loves "Night Shift". And you can't go wrong with the short stories/novellas in "Different Seasons". Personally, I have never even opened the cover of "It". I'm already afraid of clowns.....

  3. Pennywise Circus is a nod to Pennywise the Clown from Steven King's "IT". All those places are a mention to either Hill's or King's work. The Treehouse of the Mind and Lovecraft Keyhole are from other Hill works, while I believe The Night Road is another one of King's.

    1. The Night Road is from Hill's first book "Heart Shaped Box" and is the inscape where the main character can meet and chat with the dead.

  4. Brandon, thank you!!!! I do love references/homages :-) And I have to say, this tale has been turning over in my mind all summer (the kids' teeth falling out is a doozy for me). SO, I think that bumps it up a notch for me, and I really should have given it more credit.