Know what’s scary? I can think think of a few things – stalkers, intruders, mysterious tiny lady living between the walls – most of the things that come to mind involve a human at the other end. Monster movies are entertaining, but creatures aren’t nearly as frightening as people. No offense, mankind, but you’re a bunch of creepers.
When I was a kid we used to find beer bottle caps in the yard, but the caps didn’t come from the kind of beer my father drank. It was weird when we thought about it and so we tried not to think about it. Over the years we started noticing other things, like the sea shells that bordered the garden turned underside up after we’d flipped them back over. Night after night our garden statues would be facing the house when I’d specifically faced them away to see strangers coming. These were little signs. Whoever came into our space wanted us to know it. My three sisters and I found this very exciting… right up until the day we woke up to discover the basement door wide open with a copy of our hidden key still in the lock.
The horror movie version of my life would’ve continued to escalate things, but in real life the occurrences became fewer and fewer until they stopped completely, and we all started to sleep through the night again. But the experience floods back every time I notice anything out of place in my apartment. Fear has a way of getting under the skin and staying there until it rots you tender, which I guess is why I have soft spots for horror stories.
Vic discovers something incredible when she’s eight years old. There’s this covered bridge over a river past the woods behind her Massachusetts house, and when she rides her rough rider bike over it takes her places like a good bridge should. Only this bridge doesn’t take her to the other side of the river; it takes her to find whatever it is she’s looking for – her mother’s lost bracelet, her father’s lost photograph. Geographic distance is not a factor. If Vic needs to find someone in Colorado, her bridge will take her there in the time it takes to pedal over the creaking boards. Technically this bridge was torn down, but that doesn’t stop Vic from using it.
Young Vic could have a novel all to herself, but Hill doesn’t want to tell us a story about a young girl the end. He wants us to care about her as she fumbles through the years, using the bridge to find things and paying a price for each trip. Because while Vic is not the only person with an inscape, she appears to be the only one who can find things. Dangerous things. Actually, Maggie, the wise scrabble playing librarian Vic finds, suggests that we all have inscapes, but only a few have the knife to sever the tie between the world in the mind and the world physical.
Mostly the real world s-s-s-suh-sucks. But everyone also lives in the world inside their own head. An inscape, a world of thought. In a world made of thought – in an inscape – every idea is a fact.
If an inscape is a dangerous thing for a young girl, imagine one in the hands of a serial killer. Charlie Manx drives an antique black 1938 Rolls Royce with a telling license plate, and has a thing for children and all their innocence. He’s been taking them to Christmasland for a long long time because no one has known how to find him. Until Vic.
Cool as it sounds to have an inscape, when you really think about what would happen to you after a few rides through the bat-filled bridge of your own mind, it’s hard to imagine it leading to good things. One day, teenage Vic rides over looking for trouble and fittingly finds it at Mr. Manx’s Sleigh House.
By the time Vic is an adult she’s been jailed, institutionalized and addicted to every substance a woman can get her hands on. Her saving grace is a triumph-riding, comic book loving, tattooed bike mechanic and their 12 year old son, Bruce Wayne. Her need to be a good mother has her medicating to stay sane. But sooner or later Christmasland comes calling again. When Manx takes her kid she has no choice but to reject the truths she invented to convince herself Christmasland and all its empty children don’t exist.
Manx drives off with Vic’s son and you know it’s the most terrifying moment of her life. You know there’s no more turning back for her, she has to chase this child killer to the end of his world. The thing is, she’s not alone. The voices of the parents who let her down, and she them, come back to push her where she needs to go.
My favorite piece of possibly hallucinated fatherly advice:
If you’re going to be mad,…, then use it, and don’t be used by it.
There are so many things to love about this book. Joe Hill’s writing is extremely fast and visual. The story’s loud and bumpy pacing feels like a ride on the back of a triumph, which happens to be the only kind of motorcycle I’ve ever ridden on. His comic book series Locke & Key is in my reading pile and I can’t wait to get started. Not knowing who his father is until reading the Acknowledgements at the end, I can honestly say I had the same reaction to my first read of both authors – wanting to read everything they’ve ever written.
Cheers to a new favorite!