If you’re already a listener of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, then this original novel set in its universe will surely pique your interest. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s a podcast that’s staged as a radio show set in the bizarre fictional town of Night Vale, where the local library is one of the most terrifying places to visit. The podcast, which releases twice per month, was created in 2012 by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, who co-author this book of the same name.
The radio show narrator, Cecil, does have his reports featured throughout the book, but the story mainly centers on two characters — Jackie Fierro, a pawn shop owner who is forever 19, and Diane Crayton, the single PTA mom of Josh, a shapeshifting teenager who’s recently become curious about Troy, the father he’s never met. Both ladies are struggling with their own issues: Jackie was given a piece of paper that won’t leave her hand that has a location on it that she knows nothing about and has no way of figuring out what it means, while Diane is having trouble with Josh’s newfound desire to know his father, who she’s now seeing all around town, though she can’t seem to grab his attention.
Night Vale is a twisted small town in the American Southwest, specifically out in the desert, and strange things occur there all the time. But its citizens are used to the bizarre; it’s normal to them. The feel is part paranormal science fiction, part 1984 dystopia, with everything under the watchful eye of the government. For instance, we learn that in Night Vale, it is a common belief that mountains are not real and those who believe in their existence are looked down upon. Josh was once kicked out of school for wearing a Mountain Goats shirt, which was considered a political statement that sides with people who believe in mountains. “Mountains are real, mom,” Josh insists to Diane, who agrees with her son, but was embarrassed to be lectured by the Vice Principal on how “inappropriate” it was to raise a child to believe in such “nonsense.” But the tale manages to infuse the ridiculous into each circumstance, which increases the levity of some of these bleak scenarios.
The book differs from the podcast because the transcript of the radio broadcast is more like bonus material between chapters. But there are a few aspects of the podcast that show up in the book, like the mysterious The Man in the Tan Jacket who people instantly forget about. But even if you know nothing about the show, you can jump right into the story and not miss anything, although you have to expect that things are weird in Night Vale and aspects of the plot can take some time to be revealed. The book probably could have been trimmed down about 50 pages to move the story along a little quicker, but the happenings of Night Vale are intriguing enough to keep the reader going.
The Welcome to Night Vale novel first came out in hardcover in 2015, and has now been released in trade paperback format from Harper Perennial.
From the creators of the wildly popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast comes an imaginative mystery of appearances and disappearances that is also a poignant look at the ways in which we all struggle to find ourselves…no matter where we live.
“Hypnotic and darkly funny. . . . Belongs to a particular strain of American gothic that encompasses The Twilight Zone, Stephen King and Twin Peaks, with a bit of Tremors thrown in.”–The Guardian
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.