Review: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Welcome To Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

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. — [X]

So, for those who feel a little lost about *waves arms vaguely towards the universe* *universe waves back startling Yash off her chair* Welcome to Night Vale, it’s been three years since Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor released the pilot episode of their delightfully odd podcast; with each episode since, they have steadily gained the loyal affections of many a listener. Now, as they begin their fourth year writing the show (and interlopers begin their fourth year residing in Night Vale), they co-wrote a shiny new adventure for a different medium. Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel is a book set in Fink and Cranor’s fictional desert town, Night Vale and– for any new listeners or interested readers who don’t know/care about the podcast– it is very much a story that stands alone. You neither have to be keeping up with the podcast nor need to Google the town in order to sink into this one.

Welcome To Night Vale

For fans of the podcast: if you’re anything like me, you are in for such a treat.

Being re/introduced to Night Vale through the eyes of Jackie Fierro (long-time teenager) and Diane Crayton (long-time adult) is an interesting experience. In the podcast, we get to hear everything from Cecil Palmer’s news desk at the Night Vale Community Radio. There are certain things that Cecil presents to us in a blasé manner and certain things in a panic and certain things that he may/may not choose to question. His show conveys the idea of Night Vale to us, but his reality and beliefs act as a sort of filter between what actually is Night Vale and what we believe as listeners. And despite the occasional guest speakers, Cecil is the voice of Night Vale. We often forget that there are other voices that make Night Vale what it is … something that the novel does a pretty excellent job of reminding us.

It’s a plus that both the main characters are women, with different backgrounds, different priorities, and at different points in their lives. The fact that they experience Night Vale similarly or differently drives the story at first, but as we move along Night Vale becomes secondary to their own intertwined stories and their drive to take charge of their lives. Yes, they know Night Vale is (somewhat) different from other towns. Yes, everything that makes Night Vale different is (somewhat) normal to them. But move past the hooded figures in the dog park, the furry car salesmen, the tarantula that haunts Catherine, the chants, the mysterious lights in the desert: and you have a girl who wonders why she can’t remember her mother or her childhood home, and a woman who wants desperately to keep her son safe. To me, at least, it’s my favourite thing about the novel that we don’t often get in the podcast.

As for the writing style, well, it’s as unique as it gets. Two pages in and newcomers get a taste of what they’re in for:

Pawnshops in Night Vale work like this. First, you need an item to pawn. […] When you have been properly purified, you will lay the item on the counter, and Jackie will consider it. “Eleven dollars,” she will say. She will always say, “Eleven dollars.” You will not respond. You are, ultimately, unnecessary to this process. You are, ultimately, unnecessary. […] You are leaving this story now. You were only an example, and it is probably safer for you not to be in this story anyway.

The novel’s mood alternates without warning from downright eerie, to gripping, to emotional and moving, but it does so in such a way that it feels effortless, truthful, and startlingly funny at times. In that aspect, Fink and Cranor’s style of storytelling translates fluidly from podcast to novel. At their heart, both podcast and novel*, serve — like all good stories–  as windows as well as mirrors. In fact, for a small desert town, Night Vale has a hell of a lot more diversity than most shows set in New York. Diane, for example, is a biracial woman. Jackie, to me, reads as aromantic. And these are just the protagonists.

Look, I cannot say that fiction like this is everyone’s cup of tea. Not many like fiction. Not many like tea. But if you are ever in the mood for something that is– as Ransom Riggs says in his blurb and I am paraphrasing here– (really) strange and (really, really) wonderful, Welcome to Night Vale will do you good. It has fantasy, some sci-fi, many conspiracies, so much emphasis on friendship and family, a bit of Cecil and Carlos being adorkable, and a lot of humans being human. If that sounds like something you’d like, pick it up, read it, and then leave me a comment here because OMG I AM DYING TO TALK ABOUT THIS BOOK. *ahem* Okay. That’s all the rambling I will allow myself to do on the topic of this novel. Take care, readers. <3

*PS: The audiobook is also fabulous and is read by Cecil Baldwin, the voice of Cecil Palmer, himself. I just started listening to it and I think I almost prefer the audio to the print? Or maybe I just love/miss Cecil’s voice? In any case, listen to a sample here before you decide which medium to go with.

6 responses to “Review: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

  1. The authors are coming to Toronto and I’m debating whether or not to go – I’ve never listened to the podcast (although I’ve been meaning to! It just all seems so daunting now since I’m so far behind), but this seems like such a delightfully strange book.

    • So, I’ve never seen the writers do their own thing and I’m not sure what that’s like, but if the event is free or the ticket covers the cost of the book, maybe consider it? From their book and their podcast and social media, they sound like intelligent and funny people. It might be fun! :) [If you ever get the chance to catch a live show of WTNV though, I encourage you to go. It’s very accessible and has little to do with the overall plot of the podcast/book.] Cheers!

    • Oooh! When are they coming? I might be in town and able to go. :) I also haven’t listened or read, but I do enjoy seeing author’s talk about their work. It’s usually the push I need to delve into their worlds.

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