The short: 3/5 ✦. A tough nut of a novel that may only interest fans of the equally weird (but more hilarious and insightful) podcast.
Hoo boy, where do I start with this . . .
Well, probably like most people, I picked up this book because I listen to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast. To be more accurate, I got this book along with my ticket when I went to see one of their live shows last year. So yes, I can call myself a fan of the show, and I’m aware of what Night Vale and how it works and all that.
I’m just gonna be blunt: the book’s not that great. I have the same problem with it that I did when I first started listening to Night Vale. I fully admit that it took me many episodes to finally get into the flow of the show, and a big part of that is the lack of a cohesive plot (not too much of a problem with a podcast, even a serial one, but definitely for a novel) as well as another factor. One GR reviewer called it “apathy,” and I think that’s really the best term. The characters – or citizens of Night Vale – just don’t care about . . . anything. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around this when I first started listening; I was waiting for another voice besides Cecil’s matter-of-fact tone to comment on a weird happening or terrible event by saying, yeah, that was weird and/or terrible. After awhile, obviously, I got used to it, and the writing also improved to the point that while no one still cares all that much that there are monsters in the library, Cecil is allowed to have emotions about a story or characters complain, etc. It got better, is my point.
This novel feels like those early episodes, and like them, it was a hard slog to get through. I got this book back in October, and though I do tend to prioritize library books over personal copies, I know I was procrastinating reading this because I read the first two chapters and was not at all intrigued enough to go forward. And I felt kinda bad about that, because the podcast is good and the actors are amazing on it and the writing just gets better and better, but . . . the book brings home the fact that the authors’ style really works best as a short, biweekly podcast and not a 400-page novel. The prose is terse and rambly and seems to be saying something very deep and you kinda feel like, well maybe I’m just missing the point? but no, it’s just existential fluff and why anyone wants to stay in this whackadoodle town is beyond me. And I’m not saying that all the characters should be freaking out all the time or that there needs to be social commentary about what everything is supposed to represent, but acceptance is different from apathy, and by the end, I was too apathetic myself to really much care what happened to the main characters. I liked Diane and Jackie, and the “mystery” with the man in the tan jacket and Troy was fairly interesting, but overall? I’m just glad I finally finished it.
Header image: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor, published October 20th 2015 by Harper Perennial.