A couple months ago, an advance copy of Welcome To Night Vale came across my desk. Or, more accurately, it came across a coworker’s desk and I literally snatched it out of his hands and claimed it for my own. I love the podcast – it got me through many tedious hours of coding – and saw the live show when it rolled through Toronto last year, so I’ve been looking forward to seeing how my favourite surrealist town translates to my favourite medium.
Set in the desert town made famous in the podcast of the same name, Welcome to Night Vale (Harper Perennial) by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor is a hilariously dark novel about family, strangers, lethal flamingo lawn ornaments, and the fallacy of memory.
While working at Night Vale’s pawn shop, nineteen-year-old Jackie Fierro receives a mysterious piece of paper that reads “WELCOME TO KING CITY” from a forgettable man in a tan jacket holding a deerskin suitcase. When the paper refuses to leave her hand, Jackie decides to investigate. On the other side of town, Night Vale PTA member Diane Crayton begins seeing her son’s estranged father wherever she goes, even as she works to keep them apart. Jackie and Diane must work together to figure out why these men keep crossing their paths, and find a way to get to King City, a town that seems to exist in a different dimension.
Fans of the podcast will enjoy learning more about their favourite townspeople and how they live in the bizarre cityscape that is Night Vale. I especially enjoyed visiting Carlos’ science lab (spoiler: everyone in Night Vale ships it), and the heist scenario of breaking into the librarian-infested library.
I had hoped that the novel would focus a bit more on Cecil than it did (he shows up in radio interludes scattered throughout the novel), but thought the novel worked well by following previously-unknown characters. The many new details about the town kept it just as strange and delightful as ever – the kitchen-standard hot milk drawer made me shudder, and the KING CITY paper joke was funny throughout the book. Although I enjoyed the novel, it started slowly, almost grindingly: in parts it felt like it was trying too hard to upkeep the surreal tone set by the podcast; the point that Jackie was nineteen and had been nineteen for decades felt unremarkable by Night Vale standards. However, by the time Diane and Jackie team up, the novel hits its stride and comes to a satisfying conclusion.
While Welcome to Night Vale is just as witty and even frustrating as the source material, I think that the world of Night Vale is better suited to an episodic format, rather than an extended novel. That won’t stop me from consuming another novel (if there is one), or any other media from this franchise – I’ve already got my tickets for the next Night Vale show this fall!