I feel conflicted.
I just finished read Welcome to Night Vale, a novel based in the wildly imaginative podcast of the same name. I love the show, itself a perfect blend of Lake Wobegon and The Twilight Zone, and the lore of the mysterious desert town as it is related through the sweet, gentle tones of its Community Radio host, Cecil.
The book is a very strange animal. First off, it’s only going to hold an appeal with devout followers of the show who are accustomed to the town’s unexplained absurdity. This is a community plagued by secret police, an all powerful Glow Cloud, angels, and a subset of people that fervently deny the existence of mountains. This book does not explain why Night Vale is the way it is – and let’s hope that never happens – but it serves as a backdrop to a genuinely touching parental drama.
The story shifts between two women: Jackie Fiero, a perpetual 19 year old that runs the Night Vale pawnshop, and Diane Crayton, member of the town’s PTA and employee for a company that no one is certain of what they do. These two women are brought together by the odd activities of The Man in the Tan Jacket who gives Jackie a piece of paper with the words KING CITY that she is unable to get rid of. Jackie crosses paths with Diane who is struggling to raise her 15 year old son who also happens to be a shape shifter. The adventure touches on every avenue of Night Vale as it was introduced through the podcast and rubs shoulders with famous denizens.
The book has all the hallmarks of the series, even chapter interludes from Cecil himself as he delivers the news, traffic, and ad sponsors to his nightly audience. This is both a blessing and a curse. I fee that the only way to consume this story is through the audio version because the text has a tendency to meander and run off course. This is done primarily to explain the weirdness of Night Vale without really explaining. Or, perhaps this is a better way to say, to JUSTIFY the weirdness. For someone already immensely familiar with the material, the first third of the novel is a ADD-riddled mess of metaphors and similes. Honestly, how many times do you have to define what makes this property tick with listeners? I can’t imagine how confused a newcomer might feel if this was their first introduction to Joseph Fink’s program.
I’d say that the audio version of the novel is the best way to invest this novel, as it is read by Cecil Baldwin himself, but even that comes with a caveat. After reading the book, the thought of listening to a lengthy, hours long edition of the podcast isn’t all that appealing. The show is perfect it’s ~22 minute downloadable format. Anything longer and it runs the risk of its schtick getting boring.
The book certainly has its moments and is genuinely funny in spots. It sheds lights in characters and places that were merely mentioned or touched upon by the show. There are some really interesting places in Night Vale that the book takes you making it fun to explore such a bizarre place.
I came in really wanting to like this novel, being a fan of the show, but it just didn’t strike the right chords for me. In fact, most of it was a bit of a chore to get through. And that, dear listeners, made me sad.
Soundtrack suggestions: All albums by Disparition (their music is featured in the series), Stranger Things Vol. 1