Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Craynor
The first novel from the authors of the world’s most popular podcast is solid work, but they have made stylistic choices which will alienate some readers and enchant others.
The plot matters, but, at the same time, it does not matter much. The main characters of the novel are two women, each distorted by their citizenship of an uncanny, desert town, where odd things are greeted with a stoic, nihilistic shrug. Jackie has has been nineteen for as long as she can remember. She runs the pawn shop. Diane is a single mother whose son, a shapeshifter, is seeking information about his errant father. Diane has begun seeing him around town.
A man who cannot be remembered gives Jackie a slip of paper that will not leave her hand. He tries to get one to Diane’s son. The paths of the two cross and jangle, so they join forces. They go on a road trip, to find the town whose name is on the undiscardable paper. Each draws strength from the other, as they face, not horror, but a facet of the almost-banality of the incessant oddness of their lives.
The book has a meandering, rambling style. It uses horror tropes, but its style borrows heavily from literary fiction. A great deal of time is spent considering how characters feel, what they think about their feelings, and what their actions mean. In the podcast episodes, which are the source material for the novel’s setting, this is more tolerable because it is delivered in thin slices, every few weeks. In the novel, as a massive block, it causes the first half to drag, unless the reader is willing to accept that world-building and philosophical musings are the point of the book, and the plot is a secondary, if significant, consideration.
Recommended for those who enjoy the podcast, horror tropes, surreal litfic, or the work of Rod Sterling. I purchased the audiobook, which is, as always, excellently performed by Cecil Baldwin. City Libraries has copies available.