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.

Finally, The Truth Catches Up to This Blog

A million years ago, when I started this blog, I gave everyone nicknames to protect their privacy. I had been intending to give the Professor the nickname of the Philosopher, since she was just starting out in grad school and philosophy was her field and it seemed like it might be fun to write about adventures with a philosopher, whereas–and I’m sorry to have to say this–writing about your adventures with a professor is not quite as awesome. Not that you can’t have adventures with professors. They’re just going to involve going to the library and having to run from giant boulders and angry Nazis and, eventually, the sidekick disappears and there’s a nuclear bomb. You get trapped on an island with a movie star. It’s more than my heart could take.

But adventures with a philosopher? Who the fuck even knows? You probably get banned from some countries. People found fake religions around you. People try to insult other people by calling them a [your name]ist. Parties are probably filled with people doing drugs you’ve never even heard of. Plato shows up and tries to argue that ghosts aren’t real. Men randomly take off their clothes and point at odd tattoos. There’s coffee and someone has always already made dinner. You meet actual communists. They’re talking about whether there’s enough of them to field a soccer team. You can’t tell if this is a lament over their lack of numbers or if they’re actually thinking about organizing into a soccer team. Things are delightfully weird, man, all the time.

Alas, I fucked up. And I called the Professor the Professor. It ended up fine anyway. It turns out that just calling someone the Professor doesn’t, in fact, mean you don’t have philosophical adventures with them. But it does mean that then you sit around waiting to see if the philosopher you know does eventually become a professor or if she just has some weird, not quite applicable nickname on your blog.

In order to be a professor, you need two things–the credentials to get a job where people call you “Professor” and you don’t feel like maybe you should clear up that misunderstanding and said job. Today they’re going to put that piece of paper in the Professor’s hand. Soon enough, she’ll be starting the job where people will call her their professor.

I’m really proud of her. And I hope she got one of those hats that looks like a throw pillow.