Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel is the story of Jackie Fierro, the perpetually nineteen-year-old owner of Lucinda’s Pawn Shop, and the Night Vale PTA treasurer Diane Crayton. Their lives are disrupted by a mysterious paper appearing in the hands of random citizens with the message ‘King City.’ Unable to put the paper down, Jackie is driven to unravel the mystery and return to her normal life. When Diane’s shapeshifting son Josh goes missing the two women set out to find King City and return Night Vale to its normal, everyday weirdness. The novel will delight fans of the serial podcast of the same name. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft, Steven King, and other supernatural mysteries who haven’t tried the podcast may also enjoy the novel for its examination of identity, the tension in the rich, descriptive language, and dark humor.
My experience of this novel was like marathoning a 12-hours of Welcome to Night Vale in two days, which is to say: amazing. Although it took some getting used to hearing Cecil mention Steve Carlsberg without adopting a tone of disgust... (Spoilers: There is a road trip involving pink lawn flamingoes.)
It’s hard for me to talk about Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel with anything other than unabashed heart-eyes. Fink, Cranor, & co. are just so good at securing the buy-in of fans, as exhibited by the fact that they’ve been able to sustain the podcast without sponsors on only the donations from fans who are hungry for more of this strange world and are so eager to be a part of it. While I do think you could read the book first, I think this read would be quite difficult to get into if you weren’t already interested in Night Vale or the idea of Night Vale. I also find it hard to imagine walking away from the novel without being hungry to hear more from the characters so thank goodness we have a twice-monthly podcast!
The buildup is slow, particularly if you don’t enjoy the sort of leisurely, drawn out prose which build so much of the suspense and mystery of Night Vale (re: horror-speak), but the payoff is worth the wait. The overall impression of the novel is all at once absurd, terrifying, and wonderfully comforting. In a small town where every government conspiracy theory is true, dog parks are inhabited by only hooded figures, and librarians have tentacles and fans the real meat of the story is a thoughtful examination of identity and personal relationships.
Who are we when we cannot do the things we once did? Who are we when we no longer have our family and friends to use as a touchstone? Who are we when we try to be everything to everyone and end up being nothing to the people who matter most? Oh the existential horror!
It was enlightening to hear Joseph Fink talk about how he created Night Vale while dealing with the loss of his father and it makes more sense how a story about terrible things happening can actually be really comforting, because bad things happen to all of us everyday, but it’s okay not to let that consume all of your mind because whatever happens life goes on. The way you are may not be the way you were, or even the person you’d thought you’d be, but it’s still you, and that’s okay.
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