The citizens of the desert community of Night Vale are no strangers to weird phenomena. These occurrences are not limited to bright lights above the Arby’s, a clocktower no one has actually ever seen, murderous creatures known as librarians and a ban on wheat and wheat by products because of their tendency to murder innocent civilians. Welcome to Night Vale. The Welcome to Night Vale podcast started in 2012, under the writing direction of Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. Each episode is a report from the local community radio station about goings on in town. Now, the two have branched out into a novel regarding the community.
The voice of Night Vale Community Radio is Cecil (voiced by Cecil Baldwin). He recounts the day’s activities and occasional dangerous news stories, all while being mindful of the not-so-secret Secret Police, Shadowy Government Agencies and the City Council. The tales have always been kind of a light-hearted terror; think of being that Goth kid at Disneyland who is having the time of their life, but is still talking about taxidermy. In Night Vale the town dog park is off limits and one should never actually acknowledge the dog park. All here “hail the Glow Cloud” and his control of the School Board, despite the creature’s tendencies to drop dead animals from high places. In Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel, Cecil is heard from, but for the first time not the narrator (save for the audiobook, which he recorded the voices for). Sure, there are a few segues here and there constructed in a different font meant to represent his radio show, but for the most part the story focuses on perpetually 19-year-old pawn broker, Jackie Fiero, as well as the mother of a shapeshifting teenage boy, Diane Crayton. One evening, Jackie is visited by a man in a tan jacket carrying a deerskin suitcase. He gives her a slip of paper with the words “KING CITY” and then disappears into the night. Jackie realizes that she cannot remember his face or name. There’s also the matter of the fact that the piece of paper will not leave her hand. She throws it away, cuts it up, lights it on fire and even attacks it with a hatchet, but as soon as she is finished the paper is back in her hand. Soon Jackie realizes that she doesn’t remember her childhood, or how long she has been 19, or even how long she has been running the pawn shop. Diane Crayton, a single mom raising a shapeshifting teenager in the wild environs of Night Vale, soon finds her own problems with her son. After being abandoned by her boyfriend Troy shortly after their child, Josh, was born, Diane has been caring for their son alone. Josh has the tendency to grow wings, talons, antlers and even spider-like appendages at odd intervals; you know, teenage stuff. Josh begins to ask questions about his father, and soon Diane is inexplicably seeing Troy every where. He’s a cook in a restaurant at the Midnight All-Nite diner, a police officer and a movie theater ticket taker. Diane also realizes that her coworker, Evan, has gone missing and no one seems to remember ever having worked with an Evan. Meanwhile, the man in the tan jacket and deerskin suit is soon passing out “KING CITY.” In order to save their sanity and Josh, Diane and Jackie must work together to unravel the mystery of King City, Troy and the man in the tan jacket.
If you’re already a fan of Welcome to Night Vale, the book will feel like you’re continuing the podcast. Familiar faces like John Peters (you know, the farmer?), Old Woman Josie, The Faceless Old Woman That Secretly Lives in Your Home, Cecil, and Carlos all make great appearances. There’s even those pesky angels all named Erika (the existence of angels and mountains are denied in Night Vale). The story is convoluted, but charming, and like myself you may have a hard time explaining it to people who aren’t already fans of Night Vale. I imagined reading Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel> as someone who hadn’t listened to the podcast. I’ve got to tell you, if I was approaching this book without foreknowledge, I’d probably think that the writers were insane and living in a cave somewhere in the desert. In other words, the book makes the most sense if you’ve already been indoctrinated, but if you’re comfortable with extreme weirdness you’ll likely fall in love with the book anyhow.
Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel is now available from Harper Perenial. It should be read immediately and then hidden from The Secret Police.