Mostly Paper, Partial Words
Welcome To Night Vale
Authors: Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
Year Published 2015
All Hail Spoilers Worship and Submit
There is a town, a small town in the desert not unlike your own. It’s a town where the Sun is hot, the Moon is beautiful and strange lights pass overhead in the night as we pretend to sleep. This is the town of Night Vale, a town just like yours, or maybe just more like yours than you’d care to admit.
All right so maybe Night Vale isn’t much like your town. In our world (I’m assuming you live in the same world as me), “Welcome to Night Vale” started as Comedy/Surreal horror podcast, which was presented as the community radio show from the surreal town of Night Vale. A town where the bizarre happens so much, it’s just a part of regular life. If you’re interested in a story podcast that perfectly balances surreal horror and hilarious absurdity, you should give “Welcome to Night Vale” a listen. Chronologically the book, “Welcome To Night Vale” takes place just before episode seventy-six, so everyone who’s interested should go and get caught up. Don’t worry I’ll just wait here.
All right, now that we’re all on the same page, was that awesome or what? For those of you who didn’t take the time to listen to a mere seventy-five episodes (shame on you), “Welcome to Night Vale” can best be described as the twisted love child of “News from Lake Wobegon” and “The Twilight Zone.” Night Vale is in all respects a standard small town. Like all small towns, they’re concerned with P.T.A meetings, mayoral elections and the fear that large corporations might change their way of life. The only difference is that in Night Vale the head of the P.T.A is an ominous and mighty glow cloud (ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD), the mayoral candidates are a literal five-headed dragon and the faceless old woman who secretly lives in your house (yes, your house) and the encroaching corporation isn’t Wal-Mart, but StrexCorp Synernists Inc. a sinister cult devoted to a terrifying smiling God (Believe in a Smiling God). Fortunately, most of that stuff isn’t important in the context of the book.
The book “Welcome to Night Vale” focuses on two specific citizens of Night Vale and how the comfortable routine weirdness of their lives is suddenly changed into uncomfortable new weirdness. One of our main characters is Jackie Fierro the nineteen-year-old owner and proprietor of the local Night Vale pawnshop. Jackie has been nineteen for as long as she can remember (has it been years or centuries) and she has always worked at the pawn show. This familiar routine is shattered when a mysterious man in a tan jacket (yes that man, in that tan jacket) pawns a slip of paper with the words King City written on it. Now, no matter what she does that slip of paper always ends up back in Jackie’s hand. On the other side of town, office worker and single mother Diane Crayton struggles to raise her fifteen-year-old son, Josh by herself. Josh is at that awkward time in his life when kids can be a real handful. It also doesn’t help that Josh is a shape shifter and is starting to ask questions about his father. After a series of hilarious misadventures and terrifying existential terror, both women team up to solve their small town problems.
When I was growing up my mom would always listen to the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” as we drove home from school. I also loved watching the twilight zone on the Sci-Fi channel. So it should be no surprise that when I heard that there was a podcast that combined these two I was all over it like a five-headed dragon on five pigs. When I heard that there was going to be a Night Vale book, I did wonder if the shows creepy humor would successfully survive the journey into the realm of print. I’m happy to say that both the scares and the laughs are here. But I’m even happier to say that they weren’t even my favorite part.
While I was prepared to scream and laugh when I read “Welcome to Night Vale”, I was not prepared to care. Yes, believe it not I became sincerely invested in our two main characters. I felt Jackie’s fear over being uprooted from her comfortable routine and thrust into the unknown because I’ve felt that. I also felt Diane’s difficulty in raising a son on her own, even though I haven’t felt anything like that before because the writing was good enough for me to step into her shoes. If I can impress one thing on you, it’s that it’s very hard to have relatable, interesting and sympathetic characters in the book as f and absurd as this one. “Welcome to Night Vale” somehow pulls it off. One of my favorite parts is when Diane is making excuses to Josh for her absence and she tells him that she was on a date with Dawn her co-worker. Josh mishears Dawn as Don and his error isn’t corrected until long after the conversation has ended. Who hasn’t seen (or participated in) a mother and son having two separate conversations without even knowing it? That one part was one of many that really hit home for me.rightening
Sadly, “Welcome to Night Vale” isn’t perfect. While I didn’t have too much trouble, the weird wordplay, and constant bizarre shifts in the story will undoubtedly leave many people lost and wondering what the heck just happened. There is also the matter of the plot, which, in short, is Jackie and Diane try to get to King City because they think the answers to their questions are there. Now it takes them awhile to get to King City, where the climax happens, and before they get there, it seems like they’re just spinning their wheels. Not only does it take a while for both Jackie and Diane to realize they’re after the same thing, but also their search mostly involves them looking for something, then running into a dead end. Now, while this is realistic it also gets a little frustrating after a while, but maybe that was the point. Fortunately, the search itself contains a ton of interesting moments. One of my favorites is when Jackie and Diane go to the offices of the local newspaper, to talk to hatchet-obsessed editor Leann Hart about articles she wrote about King City. After a strange conversation (aren’t they all) Jackie gets fed up and just asks if Leann can put them in touch with anyone who lives in King City. Leann responds, “Oh no, I never actually went there or talked to anyone there. I’m a reporter, not a snoop.” Ladies and gentlemen, journalism in a nutshell.
“Welcome to Night Vale” is an interesting specimen. Not only is it the first book based on a podcast (that I know of), but it’s also a surreal horror comedy where the best part, at least for me, was the characters. While anyone who listens to the podcast will obviously want to pick this one up, I’m also going to recommend it to anyone who hasn’t listened to the podcast and is interested in reading a blend of scary, funny and touching. While it might confuse some, a quick visit to Wikipedia will let you know the basic outline of the show. If you’re tired of your dull lives, then why not drop everything, abandon your home and drive on over to Night Vale? After all, you’re only weird once. ( The previous statement may not be true.)
Did I like the book: Yes
Would I read it again: Yes
Would I buy it: Yes
Tell a joke about eating people: Two cannibals are eating a clown. One looks to the other and says, “Does this taste funny to you”
Now is not the time to Panic, The time to Panic was much earlier, but you can always make up for lost time.