Letting your reading life be determined by your library holds queue makes for an interesting, if sometimes disconcerting, reading experience. There I was taking a leisurely and enjoyable stroll through Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, when NOS4A2, a story by Joe Hill about a vampire named Manx who feeds on children, showed up. It's a new release and therefore a two-week checkout with no renewal, so I dropped Agnes and found myself speeding down inscape highways and through mysterious covered bridges with Vic "Brat" McQueen as she tries to rescue her son from the evil Manx and his dominion, Christmasland. Talk about whiplash.
I can't say I particularly enjoy gruesome horror stories anymore, and certainly don't normally seek them out. But I had read an article about Hill and NOS4A2, and was curious enough to give it a shot. I wasn't going to beat myself up if I didn't finish, though.
But here's the thing: Joe Hill is an excellent storyteller. It might be in his genes, since his dad is Stephen King. It's clear that Hill learned his craft by reading and re-reading and re-reading his dad. Would the similarities of style and tone have occurred to me if I hadn't known about the relationship? Probably. It really is very "Kingish." Hill acknowledges as much when he writes in the acknowledgments of "cruising [King's] back roads my whole life," and even said in an interview that he thought "it would be fun to goof on Stephen King a bit."
And here's another thing: Hill is better than his dad—or at least, shall we say, fresher. It's sort of like the difference between drinking the same iced tea you've been drinking your whole life, which is perfectly fine, and drinking raspberry iced tea with lemon—the same, but better, if you like that sort of thing.
But here's a third thing: The horrifying bits, unfortunately, are pretty much rote. You know in a book like this there's going to be a pretty fair amount of gore for anyone who inadvertently crosses Manx's path. And there is. When a dog is introduced midway through, you just know that dog isn't
going to make it out alive, and it's probably going to be a pretty
gruesome death. And it is. And that's where I lose patience. Yes, because it's a dog, and it shouldn't be any secret how I feel about thinking mildly hard-hearted thoughts about an animal, let alone actually hurting one, but also because there's plenty of real-life horror all around us, and fictional horror feels less like an escape and more like something that shouldn't be permitted to take up anymore space in my brain than absolutely necessary. That guy in Cleveland who kept those three women locked up for years? There's a child-eating vampire for you.
So, yes, Hill is a helluva writer and a helluva storyteller. By all means, check him out if you haven't already. I'm glad I did. But in general, although I'm not quite to the point of taking up Amish romance novels for my escapist reading, I think I'm past wanting to read about bone mallets and intestinal gristle for fun on rainy Sunday afternoons.