Weird Wednesday is a monthly feature about “weird” fiction, which is a combination of science fiction/fantasy and horror, or sometimes pure surrealism.
Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel (Night Vale #1)
by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
Source: Personal copy
As a fan of the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, I thought this book would be difficult to review at first, as I wondered if I could be objective. To me the podcast is like connected short stories, so this was like a novel based in the world of the short stories.
Night Vale is a small town somewhere in the desert of the American southwest. It has a community radio station run by friendly Cecil Palmer, a pawnshop, an all-night diner, a Secret Police force, and various “vague yet menacing government agencies” who watch the citizens’ every move. Only the very brave enter the library because the monstrous librarians have been known to eat people. Religious arguments erupt over whether mountains exist. Jackie Fierro owns the pawnshop. For as long as she can remember, she’s always owned the pawnshop, and has always been nineteen. One day, a mysterious man in a tan jacket carrying a deerskin suitcase gives her a paper that says “KING CITY” on it. She tries to destroy the paper, but it always reappears in her hand. The only other person to notice this is Diane Crayton, as she was also given a paper by the same man. Diane worries about her teenage son Josh–he’s started asking questions about his absent father. He can also shape shift into different animals, or his favorite combinations of animals. In alternating chapters, Jackie and Diane eventually decide to go to King City and find some answers. Where exactly is King City? What does it mean to be “a good parent”? Do you decide to grow up, or do your experiences decide for you?
Events from podcast episodes were explained, so you don’t really have to listen to the podcast for this to make sense. Then again, after I finished the book, it seemed like the opposite. It seemed like Star Trek books or Star Wars and so on, where you have to know the characters and the setting to know what’s happening. In the case of Night Vale, you’d also have to like a podcast that’s been described by its’ creators as “Twin Peaks meets NPR” or have to like surrealism.
Themes of family and coming-of-age intertwined with the surrealism. Fink and Cranor turned Cecil’s point of view from the podcast into third-person omniscient for the novel, which worked very well. I liked learning more about minor characters from the podcast stories, especially the Man in the Tan Jacket. Even with my mixed reaction, I liked this book overall. I want to listen to the audiobook version, too, read by the narrator of the podcast. I’m looking forward to the next Night Vale book!