Title: Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel
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Author: Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Pub Date: October 20, 2015
Format: ARC Paperback
Source: Provided by publisher
Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.
Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked “KING CITY” by a mysterious man in a tan jacket holding a deer skin suitcase. Everything about him and his paper unsettles her, especially the fact that she can’t seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and that no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City and the man in the tan jacket before she herself unravels.
Night Vale PTA treasurer Diane Crayton’s son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane’s started to see her son’s father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier, when they were both teenagers. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it.
Diane’s search to reconnect with her son and Jackie’s search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: “KING CITY”. It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures…if they can ever find it.
Oh, Night Vale. You and your weird profundities. I’ve been a fan of the WTNV podcast for a long time now. It is such a good podcast – often when listening I find myself scrambling for a pen and notepad so that I can write down some phrase or segment that really blew me away. So, imagine my excitement when I found out that the creators behind this podcast series were writing a novel tie-in. To me, a WTNV book would provide circumstance for infinite quotability! That profound literary voice that weaves through the podcast would be right at home in the world of novelistic fiction.
But then of course, having such high expectations usually ends with disappointment. I had thought, months ago when I first found out about the book, that this could be my new favorite book. Seriously. When I actually started reading, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I tried to just take it all in rather than pass any premature judgments.
Fans of the podcast will be happy to know that the book features radio transcripts from Cecil’s broadcasts. It’s kind of like listening to Cecil Baldwin’s distinctive voice speaking the words, except more disappointing because you have to imagine it in your head. I found myself thinking, “This would be way cooler if I were listening to it,” because those short radio sections are basically snippets of never-written WTNV podcasts. I’m really interested to see what people think of the audiobook version of WTNV: A Novel. Will it be wholly read by Cecil? Will there be many voices, chanting unknown words in the background?
One of the things I admire about the podcast is its casual inclusivity. Diverse (and sometimes bizarre) characters are built into the world of Night Vale. No one questions Cecil’s sexuality when he starts calling Carlos “dreamy,” nor should they – Cecil doesn’t talk about it on the air. The book holds up to these same standards. The main character’s teenage son casually remarks at separate times about crushes he’s had on both boys and girls. It’s just thrown in there, and what’s great is that his mother seems to have already accepted that. And to top it off, this same character can morph into whatever form or shape he chooses at any given time – presumably with the ability to transcend assigned biological sexes. (Or maybe I was just reading too much into it? It’s been a while since I finished reading this book, I’ll admit)
If there’s one thing I want to commend Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor for, it is this inherent embrace of all genders and sexualities. Just like we always say we want, Fink and Cranor have not written a “Gay/Lesbian Novel” but a novel that features characters who are also LGBT.
Now the rough part: this novel does not have a strong storyline. This is something I was anticipating from the start, because the podcasts don’t have plots, more like themes, so it’s a new element that the authors had to fit into the story. I was banking on knowing the writing style of these authors, thinking I could just get lost in the prose of the piece. Unfortunately, the podcast-like prose used in the novel does not read easily. It’s clunky and disorganized. I kept thinking that I would get used to the tone and style of the book, but I never quite settled in.
The main problem I had when reading this book was confusion. At any given time there are several things going on at once – sometimes things that do not get explained – and it’s difficult to string together important aspects of the storyline to see the plot. The chaotic writing, in a way, reflects the town itself: pure pandemonium. Interestingly though, there is so much going on that all the moving pieces get in the way of the concrete actions. The action moves SO. SLOWLY. Part of this is also due to the tendency to digress from the subject – a very “Night Vale” characteristic, but does not make for easy reading.
I want to be completely clear – I did like this book! It just wasn’t what I was expecting. To me, this book is like the poorly written rom-com you go to see in movie theaters just because your favorite actor is in it. It’s good because of what’s already been brought to the table, but it doesn’t look so good compared to the films nominated for Academy Awards. (In this analogy, the Academy Award nominated films are my favorite books.)
I know this book is going to be a huge milestone in the development of Welcome to Night Vale. Shifting to a new medium obviously brought about some changes that I did not like. But underneath it all is the same engrossing Night Vale. If you take your time reading this book, you might start to slip away into the void…
I’m back from the void. Anyway, Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel is a very interesting read, but I’m not sure it will be popular among those people who do not already know about the podcast. If you’re interested, I would recommend shelling out the extra couple of bucks to get the audiobook version. That’s going on my holiday wishlist for sure. I can see myself listening to it over and over again. Literally see myself. I’m hallucinating.
As with any brave new venture, Fink and Cranor deserve to be congratulated on expanding Night Vale into a book. And without further ado,
Goodnight, Night Vale. Goodnight.