My Rating: 9/10
It’s really hard to describe the book, Welcome to Night Vale. It’s beyond explanation much like the podcast on which the world of the novel is based.
The first thing about the book that struck me was the writing style. Laced throughout are asides, phrasal repetitions, and odd imagery. Night Vale is a very strange place where extraordinary things are seen as common place. Things that have certain associations in our world are wildly subverted in various ways in theirs. Some of the phrasal repetitions in certain chapters serve to constantly remind the reader about the odd things that are happening around the characters. The asides mixed a fair bit of humor throughout the narrative and sometimes put you squarely into the story when they slips into second person. Due to all this however, it took me a good few chapters to actually get used to the style but it’s worth it once you get into the story.
Though the setting of the story and the particular societal conventions are a bit out of the ordinary, the story and characters are grounded in something most people can relate to. The story discusses issues of identity and the existential questions many of us confront at some point in our lives. The story itself is told from two perspectives. On the one hand there is Jackie Fierro who works at a pawnshop and has a daily routine that she is deeply ingrained in until a piece of paper attached to her hand wrecks everything and she starts questioning her existence. On the other hand, there is Diane Crayton who grows worried when her shapeshifting son, Josh, starts seeking out his estranged father. As the story moves on, the characters learn more about themselves and the relationships they have to those around them. They try to learn about their places in this crazy world.
Underneath existential musings there is a great mystery that is weaved throughout the story. There is a man with a deerskin suitcase that no one in the town can seem to remember clearly. The pieces of paper he hands out to the townsfolk only bears one clue to his identity: “King City.” To me, the best type of mystery is one that I can’t guess until near the end and boy did this one keep me guessing. I couldn’t readily tell the connection between the multiple plot elements in the story or the connection between the major characters. The radio broadcast by Cecil Palmer layered between the plot provided little tidbits and clues to the course of the story which I thought were brilliant editions to the overall narrative. It also served to firmly ground the reader into the world.
I would honestly recommend this book to anyone but especially for those who enjoy the Night Vale podcast. If you are a fan of the strange and surreal with great humor and characters, it’s a must read.