I just finished a book the other day that was perfectly fine except that the magical talking male cat was a calico. And I just couldn’t get past it. Magic cat? Fine. Talking cat? Sure. I watched enough Sabrina in my day. Male cat? Half of them are. Male calico? No explanation? Nope. Every time I stumbled across that detail, it was like nails on a chalk board, threw me right out of the book. Which was otherwise, if a little dated (it was from the 80s), was a really good book.
Likewise, Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 is a masterpiece. In every detail. Except he gets Lou so wrong that it’s jarring. The one wrong note in an otherwise perfect performance. But it’s a wrong note that repeats itself throughout the story and then blossoms in the end into a wish-fulfillment fantasy so off-key it was almost hilarious.
It’s as if Hill is saying “Look how much I like this character, I gave him a new heart and a new body and a new woman. I fixed him.” without any awareness of just how it ends up coming across as evil. It’s a weird problem because Lou doesn’t hate himself. And he’s a really good guy who is loved by his girlfriend and his kid. He makes brave, hard choices to protect his kid from his mom’s problems when she won’t/can’t. And then, every step of the way, he helps his girlfriend save their kid.
And Hill wrote that. So, clearly, he has a deep and abiding sense of Lou’s humanity and goodness. And yet he is still a problem to be fixed. And when the “problem” is fixed, Hill describes him as a “new” man. And yet, none of the traits I described in the last paragraph change. But he’s clearly supposed to be worth the love of a good woman and a happy life after the trauma of the book now that he’s been fixed.
It’s both as if Hill can’t help but view poor Lou as a full human being AND view him as someone who can’t really participate in life because he’s fat. Even though, throughout the book, all we see him doing is participating in life in perhaps the healthiest ways of any of the characters.
It’s a bit like Mr Peanut in that, as you’re reading it, you wonder if he’s actually ever known any morbidly obese people. Or, honesty, poor people for that matter. Dude is a self-employed mechanic with a kid and a girlfriend who’s been institutionalized numerous times. Who the fuck paid for his lap-band?
The longer I think about it the more I think that the problem is that Hill is a straight dude. And so, even though he, in all other aspects, really gets his female characters, at the end of the day, I don’t think he truly, in his heart, believes that Vic would be attracted to Lou if Vic weren’t so fucked up, because Hill just cannot imagine why a woman would find a huge dude attractive, even though there are many, many points in the novel where he brushes up against those reasons, but, I guess, doesn’t recognize them for what they are.
Anyway, it’s kind of an enormous problem and yet, the book is so good that it doesn’t derail it. It just rings sour. Which is too bad, because it’s otherwise as good a book as you’re going to read this year.