I had seen this book by Joseph Fink around when it was first published and it definitely piqued my interest, but I had not known it was associated with a podcast. I saw a friend of mine reading the book about a year ago and asked her what she thought. She was enjoying it, but she thought Fink was still writing very much in the podcast-type style and not all of it worked as well in print as it did on the podcast. She also said I probably would not get as much out of the book if I didn’t listen to the podcast. Thankfully, all the previous episodes are currently available online so I was able to start from the very beginning.
I still have not listened to all the episodes, but I got all the way through 2015, so I’m almost caught up. It took me a few episodes to decide whether I wanted to continue listening. It’s definitely very weird, but it’s also quite funny and, once you get used to it, enjoyable.
The podcast episodes are presented as episodes of a radio show program called “Welcome to Night Vale.” It’s hosted by Cecil Palmer, who usually describes some sort of threat the town is facing, with breaks for things like traffic and the weather. The weather report is always a song by a musical guest and the traffic report is usually another side story that may or may not have anything to do with travel or driving.
Night Vale is a town in the middle of a desert somewhere in America. Their reality has some similarities to ours, but also some very important differences. For example, time is very weird in Night Vale and doesn’t work the same way it works for us. A character in some of the later episodes explains he was 19 for a very long time before he suddenly became an adult with a house and a kid he has no memory of acquiring. At one point he finally had to give up and asking the kid his name. He went to high school with Cecil, who blows off his concerns, but when he asks Cecil if he can remember what year they graduated, Cecil hesitates before changing the subject.
Based on my friend’s comments about the writing of the book, I figured I’d be better off listening to the audiobook than reading it the old fashioned way and I was absolutely right. It’s narrated by Cecil Baldwin, who also does the voice of Cecil Palmer on the podcast. I was so glad he narrated it because he really is the voice of Night Vale. There’s just no other way to listen to it.
Not only did Baldwin do an excellent job of narrating the book, but there are sections included in the book called “The Voice of Night Vale” in which we get to hear parts of Cecil’s radio program. Reading it just wouldn’t have been the same, whereas listening to his voice was much like listening to one of the podcast episodes.
Although there are many characters, places, and events from the podcast that get mentioned in the book, it is supposed to be a standalone story. I’m not sure you really need to have listened to the podcast in order to enjoy this book. I liked having the frame of reference, but my mom, who had not listened to the podcast, tried to listen to the audiobook and didn’t get very far before she gave up, so you probably really are better off listening to the podcast first. If nothing else, it introduces you to the world of Night Vale so you know what to expect and what’s considered “normal” in that town when you get to the book.
The book primarily involves Jackie, the 19-year-old owner of the local pawnshop who has been 19 for as long as she can remember, and Diane, a single mother to a 15-year-old boy named Josh who can change his outer form at will and is constantly doing so. Both are minding their own business until someone gives Jackie a slip of paper that says “King City” and she finds she can’t get rid of it, no matter what she does.
Diane has a coworker who goes missing but, when she asks about him, none of her other coworkers know who she’s talking about and his desk is gone.
Both women set out to find out just what the heck is going on, despite having to overcome serious obstacles. The man in the tan jacket with the deerskin suitcase full of flies plays a prominent role, as does Steve Carlsberg and Old Woman Josie, along with her angelic beings who are definitely not angels because everyone knows angels don’t exist. Obviously.
If you are not yet familiar with the podcast, I highly recommend you check it out because it’s super fun. And if you like the podcast, you’ll definitely enjoy the book. I recommend the audiobook specifically.
What did you guys read/listen to this week? Anything else that required some catching up before you could start reading?