Inviting, Charming, & Creepy: Welcome to the Night Vale

After finishing up TANIS Season 2, I decided to listen to Alice Isn’t Dead. Consequently, I got introduced to Welcome to the Night Vale, an intimidating podcast collection that’s overwhelming for a podcast starter like myself. When I mentioned this to some co-workers, I was told to read the Welcome to the Night Vale book and then someone left it on my desk the next day. My background in the Night Vale is nonexistent, which is probably why the novel was an enjoyable, if confusing, undertaking.

I assumed the book follows the format of the podcast, highlighting strange occurrences, contradictions, and hints to the meaning behind Night Vale’s creation. The plot drew me in—an unknown man in a coat and briefcase gives a piece of paper with the words ‘King City’ written on it to the pawn shop owner, Jackie. At the same time, single-mother Diane discovers her ex-husband, who abandoned her and her son, had reappeared and doesn’t recognize her. On top of it all, Diane’s problems parenting her son, Josh, through his teenage years demonstrate how difficult it is to connect with another person, even if that person is a shapeshifter. As Jackie and Diane’s tales collide, they go on a quest to understand what King City means to them both.

I enjoyed the novel from start to finish, especially the dichotomy between Jackie and Diane. They clashed with each other continuously, showing a daughter-mother relationship that finally evolves into a friendship—something we all wish happens with our parents when we children are old enough to take care of ourselves.  The random, butterfly effect element of the story entertained, but up to a point. Example: the old woman without the face thought the party hat was weird which the house distilled into a thought which transferred to a roadside hitchhiker who decided selling party hats was a fantastic new venture, and settled down in the town somewhere to the north of Night Vale. After the twenty-fifth, I started to glaze over.

The tactic worked on the podcast. At the end of every Alice Isn’t Dead episode, the narrator questions why the chicken crossed the road, leading to a lulling diatribe which didn’t irritate me as much as the book’s did. I didn’t let it sway much of my opinion, since I assume that’s part of the charm.

Plus, a dangerous library full of terrifying books and terrible monsters called librarians captured my attention. As a child of a librarian, how could it not?

Alice Isn’t Dead followed a truck driver crossing the United States in search of her lost wife, and coming face to face with strange, supernatural beings. A different type of podcast from the ones I’ve listened to, Alice has a single narrator, but I felt I didn’t lose anything from hearing everything from her point of view. Although, in the same vein as Night Vale, and in an attempt to maintain the ‘weirdness,’ things never really got explained in the end.

Ah, the ending. That tricky beast. Alice Isn’t Dead left me satisfied, but Night Vale left me wanting. They arrived at the creepy King City—which felt like what I imagine Alzhiemer’s must be like—but then at the decision point, our protagonists came to the realization that love can conquer, that they respected each other, and then left. The library scene had more intensity than the consequences of King City, the mayor, and the impending doom. Maybe some cities simply have to be abandoned, no matter how much the citizens suffer. When did this delightful town become so grimdark?

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