AMC’s adaptation of Joe Hill’s N0S4A2 drops in a couple of weeks. This book was huge for him when it came out, and it’s the first of his stories to receive a proper wide-release so on screens so I wanted to talk about it. While many are familiar with Hill and his particularly twisted tales, I feel like he’s slipped under the radar for so many. That’s a shame, he’s great.
I first stumbled on him when I came home from college the first time, wandering a Barnes & Noble looking for something to read. I found a big display for his first published novel, Heart-Shaped Box, and found the title intriguing (I love Nirvana) and read through the first couple of chapters. I liked it a lot, but for some reason didn’t pick it up. I did some research, though, and in my digging discovered that he was the son of Stephen King. That got my attention. The first summer out of high school I worked at a summer camp, with one day off to go to town and pick up whatever I felt I needed. I found a used bookstore and ended up burning through tattered King paperbacks, really getting into him for the first time. Finding out that his son also wrote was intriguing and yet…I still didn’t pick it up.
Eventually my friend, Chris, brought me a comic called Locke & Key. I recognized the author’s name, Joe Hill, and burned through the series quickly. After catching up I snagged the single issues as the final arc was released and was blown away by what a tight, inventive storyteller he was. This was different than anything I’d read by his father, and yet it carried several of the same hallmarks. Family drama, dark fantasy, gruesome death, all were present and accounted for. What hit me hard was his ability to stick the landing at the end of the story. His father has always struggled with this, usually writing himself into a weird corner and wrenching himself out of it. My interest was piqued and I’d seen his second novel, Horns, on shelves so I grabbed it.
Holy shit. I’m so glad I did.
Horns was a watershed moment for me, that novel that crystalized what he was as an author. I still remember loaning it to a friend and having them text me at 3am, demanding to know why they were crying over a Joe Hill novel in the middle of the night. The way that story has affected my life (not to mention my writing) and the lives of several friends has been important to us, changing the way we viewed him and our own work.
So of course the minute N0S4A2 hit the shelves I had to check it out. I don’t adore it in the same way I do Horns, but it’s a wonderful story and it was the one that seemed to break him into the mainstream. An ugly little story, vampiric and monstrous, it brought together several elements of what made him all of his own storyteller as well as his father’s son.
The story revolves around a demon man, Charlie Manx, who emerges from a coma to once again wreak havoc by kidnapping children. The authorities assume he’s a murderous pedophile, and why wouldn’t they? Each child he took has never been seen again, and no one knows what he does to them. His ability to vanish them seems tied to his vehicle, a Rolls Royce Wraith with the license plate N0S4A2, and his life seem unnaturally long. His appearance is…well, it’s that of Count Orlok from the film Nosferatu (see what he did there?) and it’s this awkward yet monstrous visage that ties his vampiric nature into the story. See, his car lends him an ability. He can take shortcuts to various locations via a path known as “the shorter way.” Other characters find their own methods of interacting with this supernatural highway, and that’s where the conflicts begin to arise.
Joe Hill’s ability to create human characters is his greatest strength. His villains are understandable, his heroes flawed and all-too-real, and it’s this that sucks the reader in far more than anything else. You don’t stick with Horns because of the devilish nature of the plot, you stick with it hoping desperately that Ig Parrish gets out of his situation whole and okay. This is a thread that runs through all of his stories, and he weaponizes it to drive his weird sensibilities home and make you feel the consequences of their very existence.
After a multitude of stumbles with getting other adaptations off the ground, we were finally given a big-screen version of Horns starring Daniel Radcliffe. It was…okay. I had a lot of issues with it, but overall it was a decent watch. Still, I held onto hope that we’d get something from his books that held more true to what he was capable of and what his stories could be. Now it looks like we have, with this AMC adaptation of N0S4A2. I’m beyond excited for the show to drop on May 31st and sincerely hope it opens the door for other versions of his work. This is an author who has crafted some really messed up stuff, but that can also impact the lives of his readers in a way that is personal and endearing. I hope this show can do that for you.
Check out the trailer, and I hope everyone gives the series a shot when it drops in a couple of weeks!