So fair warning, y'all: while reading Joe Hill's 700-page new novel, NOS4A2, which you will do rapidly and with delight, you will end up with Christmas music running through your head. Constantly. And it will FREAK YOU RIGHT THE EFF OUT. William Morrow was wise to publish this in spring rather than closer to the holiday, or they'd be blamed for legions of readers having the Worst Christmas Ever--this way, the memory of Charlie Manx and his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith (with its titular license plate) will have blessedly faded.
Charlie's car is a part of him, and he's part of it. Together, they drive down roads no other car can, all the way to Christmasland, "where every morning is Christmas morning and unhappiness is against the law." He's brought children to Christmasland for seven decades--they acquire a great many alarming extra teeth along the way--aided by a series of Renfields like Bing Partridge, who may be a few ants short of a picnic but makes up for it with his father's gas mask and a canister of gingerbread-scented sevoflurane. (Freaked out yet?)
Vic McQueen has her own uncanny vehicle: riding her Raleigh Tuff Burner at top speed, she can travel right over the Shorter Way bridge (despite its having collapsed years ago) to wherever she needs to be to find what she's looking for. One day, she goes looking for trouble, and rides all the way to Charlie, the Wraith, and the house in Colorado where Christmasland overlaps with the outside world.
And we're only 150 pages in.
I'm gonna once again break into my lockbox o' book-review cliches to pull out "tour de force," because ZOUNDS this book is good. (Interesting: a search of this blog finds that I've used the phrase previously to describe Neal Stephenson's Anathem and Dorothy Sayers's Gaudy Night. I think Mr. Hill would be OK with that company.) Hill's writing is deceptively straightforward, sly and propulsive and wise; he writes about so many things, trauma and picture books and parenthood and even Gerard Manley Hopkins and his fanboy crush on author David Mitchell, and the book is equally successful appealing to the heart and intellect as it is the hairs on the back of your neck. (While it didn't scare me quite as much as his debut, Heart-Shaped Box, that's the second scariest book I ever read, after Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, so that ain't a criticism.) Read it now, before the radio switches over to non-stop "Little Drummer Boy," six months from now.