Beauty in Unexpected Places: NOS4A2

I figure its about time to ramble a bit about a book I like. Fair warning, pretty much all the book posts I'll end up writing will be about books I enjoyed. Early-twenties Sarah would have gone on at length about how awesome a good hating is for the system, but that was my early twenties self. She was bit of a judgey bitch. Older, wiser Sarah finds that being enthusiastic about cool things is much more satisfying than hating on uncool things.

Something happens to me when I read a special kind of good book. There are many different kinds - exciting, tragic, touching, optimistic, painful, etc. Inspirational is how I would describe this particular kind of good book, a book that renews your faith in a world full of good things. I usually sit wherever I am for enough time to weird bystanders out, touching the cover and grinning contemplatively. A book like this can cure any bad mood.

Wait a second, crazy lady - aren't you talking about a horror novel? What possible non-creepy inspiration could one gain from a dubiously titled horror story? I'm not immune to my own judgey nature you know, I do think the title is kind of silly. But it makes sense in context. Listen. Inspiration can come from surprising places.

In any case, I'll keep the beginning part of this post as spoiler-free as possible but I probably won't be able to help myself towards the end. I promise to get really shouty with the caps lock when I'm about to wax spoileriffic. And god help you, if you get to the spoilery part and think to yourself "Oh I can continue, I'm not planning on reading this book" I will know and I will find you. And you will get the glare of judgement straight from the black heart of 22-year-old-bartender Sarah, so help me!

Alright, hyperbole aside - why exactly do I rate this book so highly? What's the story, who are the characters and why should you care about them. I tend to believe that the best horror stories come from the simplest - and sometimes silly - starting points. The villain here is an evil man named Charlie Talent Manx who takes children and drives them in his magic car to Christmasland, where they are never heard from again. Our hero is Vic McQueen, strong but damaged, who has a magic bridge she uses to find lost things. The magic car and bridge are kind of the linchpin of the concept behind the story, which the author refers to as inscapes. I think the way he uses the word is a bit different from the popular use - an inscape (in literary parlance to get all fancy) is defined as the unique inner nature of a person or object as shown in a work of art. Joe Hill expands on the definition by making his inscapes the inner nature of a person that is made manifest in the real world. Vic's character spends a lot of time searching - and not just for physical things like lost children and bracelets - she's constantly searching for the good in herself as well. Charlie Manx car represents his need to consume. Another character who has a bottomless bag of Scrabble tiles has a bottomless need to know things.

The concept of innocence plays a big part in this book as well, in that is something you have to eventually grow out of. Christmasland is a place of childlike innocence in the worst way - yes, it is Christmas every day but its also a place of unknowing cruelty which is something innocence can become if it isn't turned into wisdom eventually.

The story itself is fairly simple, but with the various additional concepts it becomes incredibly powerful.

However, this book is probably not for everyone. There's a lot of violent and cruel imagery, and if that's something that bothers you reading it will not produce the same effect that I got from it. Something to keep in mind.


By far my favorite idea this book contains is "Gold doesn't come off", namely that if you are a good person no one outside yourself can change that. When Wayne, Vic's child, is rescued from Christmasland he finds himself slowly transforming into one of the cruel ice-children that inhabit the place. This manifests in subtle ways - he starts to find things funny that objectively he believes are horrible and wonders at what is causing that. But before he can fully lose himself, in other words recognize that the impulses he is feeling are wrong, his father figures out what's what and does something about it. But not before Wayne starts to doubt what his mother said to him before she died - that he's gold and gold doesn't come off. But in the end Wayne takes the steps necessary to shed the horrible things that Manx did to him. We might have impulses and feelings that feel wrong to us sometimes, but the important part is our actions. We only change if we let ourselves change. No outside force, no matter how evil, can change who we are on the inside. That's what gave me the contemplative grin after I finished the book.

Now if you'll excuse me I think I'll go read it again. I mean, I've only read it the once and that was months ago. It really is that good.

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