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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.

 

Book 15/100: Nos4A2 by Joe Hill

— feeling vampire
NOS4A2: A Novel - Joe Hill, Kate Mulgrew

Read Harder Challenge Item: A Horror Book

I think the experience I had with this book is just the sort of thing reading challenges that push you to read "outside your comfort zone" hope will happen.

That is to say, I greatly enjoyed this read even though it is outside my preferred genres. I don't read much horror even though it often gets grouped in with science fiction and fantasy, which I read quite a bit of. But books like this make me understand why they are so often seen as siblings in the speculative fiction family, since this felt more like a "dark fantasy" with a parallel world, a possibly immortal villain, and characters with quirks that gave them advantages akin to superheroes.

Still, what impressed me most about this book is that it never devolves too far into genre convention. It works so well because it doesn't FEEL like an obvious horror -- it's written in a way that has it straddling the boundary of literary fiction, with fully realized, likable characters who are not slaves to the plot as occurs in a lot of straight "genre fiction," and themes that continue to run 'round my brain long after the book is finished.

This is a long read -- it took me a month to get through -- but it doesn't feel that way. The pacing is impeccable, and even though there is a lot of backstory and buildup before we arrive at the story actually represented on the book synopsis, it's not one of those books where it seems to take forever to actually get started. The "backstory" is given such exquisite care that it rivals the "front story" and makes the ultimate confrontation between Charlie Manx and Vic that much more satisfying.

There are several places where this book does not take the expected or cliche route, and this was both a pleasant surprise and a relief to me. Hill writes his female characters well, and although there are a few moments where male fantasy sneaks in, it's never enough to be off-putting. Mostly because I really loved these characters that freakin' much.

Although the entire book is suffused with a kind of off-kilter, forboding tone, squeamish as I am I did not feel like I was "truly" in a horror novel until near the end. Up until that point, it was a dark, psychological character study with believable villains that truly made my skin crawl. It's also a relief to see a take on vampire mythology that is steeped in horror rather than romance or eroticism. There is nothing "sexy" about Charlie Manx, although he does have a certain creepy charisma.

The only reason I didn't give this book five stars is because there was a section or two in the middle that sagged for me -- mostly surrounding characters that didn't end up being that important -- and I wish one of the elements of the ending had been different.

Bottom line: if you like horror, read it. If you don't like horror, read it. This is one of the books that truly deserves the hype and fanfare that surrounded its release.

[Side note: I listened to the audio version, which is excellent and certainly enhanced my reading experience. Can't wait to relive the story in the AMC series that is currently in development.]