Book Review: “Welcome to Night Vale” by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cramor

12194609_10207940163531486_7955440498829446822_oWelcome to Night Vale is not your typical podcast. If you remember my post from last month about the live show, it’s a podcast about a weird American Southwest town where the laws of physics and reality don’t apply. I’ve been a fan for many years, so when I heard there was a novel coming out, I jumped at the chance to preorder it. (I even bought the pre-signed edition!) When it came, I tried to read it several times and just couldn’t get into it.

I finally managed to get through the novel, and that’s not good news.

When you have a podcast, you have to tell your listeners what’s happening instead of showing them, because otherwise it’d be a television show. Fink and Cramor don’t seem to understand that with the novel. It’s a lot of description, but it’s also a lot of telling. Ask any English major or creative writing student what’s wrong with telling, not showing, and you’ll get a year-long rant that just doesn’t seem to end. (Hey — new post idea!) You want to settle into the story gently, not have things front-loaded at you like you’re five with no idea of how the world works. (Although, technically, with the city of Night Vale, you don’t know how the world works, but taking your readers out of the story to tell them about it so often makes it difficult to stay in the story.)

That being said, don’t even bother reading this book if you’re not a fan of the show or the weirdly abnormal. It’ll confuse you and make you weep. It’s billed as a horror novel on Audible, but a horror novel it is not. The podcast occasionally has some horrible themes happen, but it’s more comedic and dramatic than horror.

There are so many proper nouns, and so much backstory that isn’t really explained in the novel but might exist in the show. Technically, you can read this novel without listening to the podcast, but you’ll be utterly confused. The main characters are side characters in the podcast, upgraded to big-time status for their novel debut. While they are interesting, you are still left scratching your head and wondering what they’ve been doing in the show for so long.

Even as a fan of the show, I found it frustrating at times. It had some of the charm of the podcast, but not as much as there should have been. I was sorely disappointed in this novel. It’s got an interesting backstory to it, but the way it’s pulled off just doesn’t translate to the written word very well. The jokes seem flat and the world isn’t as real as it feels in the podcast.

Maybe, just maybe, I need to buy the audiobook version in order to fully appreciate the weirdness that is the Night Vale novel. As it is, just reading it is a frustrating experience that isn’t all that well-rewarded by the end. The ending’s pretty okay, but I don’t know if I would struggle through the book again. I might if I get the audiobook.

I doubt I’ve learned my lesson, though, because I’ve already preordered It Devours, the newest Night Vale novel, coming to bookstores near you this October.

I’d give this book a solid 3/5 stars, with a skip it if you’re not a fan of the show, and please consider it if you are. There is some charm in this twisty mess of a novel, but it takes a lot of digging and concentration to extract it. If you don’t have the time to sit down and read this in one or two sittings, you might find yourself getting even more lost and confused the further on you go. To me, it’s forgettable.

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From the creators of the #1 international hit podcast Welcome to Night Vale 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.

Welcome to Night Vale . . . a friendly desert community somewhere in the American Southwest. In this ordinary little town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are commonplace parts of everyday life, the lives of two women, with two mysteries, are about to converge.

Pawnshop proprietor Jackie Fierro abides by routine. But a crack appears in the standard order of her perpetually nineteen-year-old life when a mysterious man in a tan jacket gives her a slip of paper marked by two pencil-smudged words: KING CITY. Everything about the man unsettles her, especially the paper that she cannot remove from her hand. Yet when Jackie puts her life on hold to search for the man, no one who meets him can seem to remember anything about him.

Diane Crayton’s fifteen-year-old son, Josh, is moody and a shape-shifter. Lately, Diane has started to see the boy’s father everywhere she goes, looking the same as he did the day he left when they were teenagers. Josh is growing ever more curious about his estranged father—leading to a disaster Diane can see coming but is helpless to prevent.

Diane’s search to reconnect with her son and Jackie’s search to reclaim her routine life draw them increasingly closer to each other, and to this place that may hold the key to their mysteries and their futures . . . if they can ever find it.

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • Published: January 10, 2017 (paperback)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062351432

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