When I was a little girl my family would spend nearly every day at Silver Lake. To a 7-year-old this place was paradise. It had sand, a lifeguard in a tower who always seemed as still as a statue, a park to play in when you got sick of swimming, and some days there was a cart that sold snow-cones and hot dogs.
My mom usually took us on weekends but she was a single woman raising 3 kids on her own. Sometimes we had a baby sitter. And one day that baby sitter decided we were going to swim on the other side of the lake because he wanted to smoke a substance that is now legal in the state of Washington but 25 years ago wasn’t. To be honest, this part of the lake SUCKED. Long grass and weeds choked the water line. We had to leave our shoes on because of all the sharp rocks and broken glass in the water.
To this day I suspect there was some kind of water monster hiding in the darkest depths waiting to pull me under. I had just seen the movie Piranha. I’m pretty sure those little cannibals were down there. I’d get waist deep and stare at the crowds on the other side: people lying back on their towels, snoozing in the sun, kids enjoying the sand squishing between their toes. They didn’t have to worry about tetanus shots. The Other Side, as I called it, was not magical and wondrous. It was a dark place where even the sun couldn’t cut through the tops of the trees.
In Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, young Vic McQueen is able to travel to other places on her bike. When she gets on her Raleigh Tuff Burner and starts peddling a bridge opens up, the Shorter Way Bridge, one that others can’t see. Throughout her childhood and into her teens she peddles across the bridge and visits people. One of them is a tiny wisp of a woman named Maggie who is a librarian in Here, Ohio. Her talent is like Vic’s but she reads scrabble letters to tell the future. She sees a dark future for Vic, a dangerous and dark future.
Enter Charles Talent Max who has been stealing children for years. He takes them to a place called Christmasland where…well, it’s Christmas all the time. It would be my personal hell to live there, especially since they now start playing Christmas music in stores mid-August. Manx is like a vampire, sucking the life out of children by promising them Christmas fun 24/7.
One day after a nasty fight with her mother, 17-year-old Vic hops on her bike and finds the Shorter Way Bridge (or it finds her). She peddles and peddles until she comes to a house with a kick ass 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith. I had to google an image of the car. It is indeed kick ass. I think I would get into a car like this driven by a stranger without even being promised any candy or kittens who smell like sleepy mornings and day dreams.
Vic sees a child in the back seat and knows the kid is in danger. Once Vic gets closer to the car she sees that the child’s face is warping and displaying row upon row of sharp teeth. She runs into the house where Manx’s assistant, a sad rhyming idiot, tries to gas her into submission. Vic fights him off and somehow burns the house down. A big dude on a motorcycle is passing by the house when she runs screaming out into the street. He stops, she hops on and we meet Lou who instantly falls in love with Vic (because really, you kind of have to fall in love with someone who is running towards you with a backdrop of a burning house). She escapes but Manx is still out there.
Fast-forward 15 years. Vic has been in and out of rehab, is covered in tattoos and doesn’t get to see the child she and Lou had years ago. She gets sober and wants to start her life right. She wants her son Wayne to spend the summer with her. She’s nervous as hell because she doesn’t really know him and he’s scared because he doesn’t know her. They’re slowly getting to know one another when BAM! There’s Charles Manx in his Wraith taking off with Wayne. Vic’s job is to hunt Manx down and end him.
I read my first Joe Hill novel a few years ago. I looked him up because his writing was so familiar that I felt something tugging at me. Let’s call it the “I know you, don’t I?” tug. Turns out Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. No wonder the writing seemed familiar. But Joe Hill’s writing stands on its own. His characters are people I think about during the day. You know you’ve made an impact on someone when they sit at their desk and think “I wonder what Vic’s doing right now?”
Devour this novel. Eat it up until there isn’t anything left. Root for the wayward mother doing any and everything to save her child.
I have to go. The Wraith has pulled up in front of my house and it looks like it needs a driver.