I’m not sure what it was that drew me to think book originally, perhaps the cover (the colors and design really catch your eye), perhaps it was the title (again, something about it is really attention-grabbing), perhaps it’s because I heard it was based on a hit podcast and, though I’m not into podcasts, that seemed like a good recommendation upon which to choose a book. Or perhaps it’s none of those things… Regardless, I grabbed this book at a used book store months ago and, when saw the audiobook available at the library (I mean, doesn’t listening to a book based on a podcast seem like the exact right candidate for a next audiobook choice?) I took that as a sign that it was time to actually pick it up.
Night Vale is a strange place – a small town somewhere in the southwestern US, where time doesn’t really move like normal and angels exist (but it’s illegal to acknowledge them), government conspiracies are daily features, decorative lawn flamingos have a secret dangerous side, and librarians are dangerous, man-eating creatures. This novel tells the story of two women living in Night Vale. Jackie Fierro runs a pawn shop and Diane is a PTA single mother raising a shape-shifting son named Josh. When a stranger comes to town and gives Jackie a piece of paper that reads “King City” that she can’t get rid of no matter what she does and Josh decides to take matters of finding his father into his own hands (because his mother won’t help), Jackie and Diane find themselves as unwitting partners trying to solve their individual life problems/mysteries that are, apparently, more intertwined than either ever imagined.
Ok everyone, this book was weird. And I mean really weird. Now, I knew that it was going to be a little strange going into it – I mean, just look at that plot description. And I like a strange book every now and again. (For example, The Library at Mount Char is a favorite of mine, The Gentleman tickled my funny/satirical bone, and I absolutely count myself as part of the Supernatural fandom. Actually, seriously, this book was like a combination of all those book/show styles and I would actually totally recommend it if you like any/all of those.) So, what I can’t figure out is what missed the mark for me. Because something definitely did. I literally never got into this book. And there were about three times while listening to it that I thought about giving it a break and trying again later, when I was in a different mood/head-space, but I convinced myself to keep going. It never got better for me. Now, perhaps this is because I have never listened to the podcast, but I don’t think that’s it. There was never a point where I thought that more background information would help, basically because everything is so peculiar and eerie and crazy that you could read/listen for hours to missives from/about Night Vale and not actually have any deeper of a grasp on what goes one there – to be fair, that’s definitely part of the allure of the podcast/book, I am sure, but it’s also why I don’t think listening to the podcast first would have changed my reaction(s). There’re two main things that I think kept me from getting into it, and both are plot related. First, I think, is that it was all too weird for me to truly/meaningfully connect to the story (at least for a story of this length – maybe that’s why the podcast is better; weird is better in short pieces, for entertainment as opposed to for deeper significance). The second, and this may seem contradictory, is that the story (of a girl looking for meaning from a forgotten past and a boy searching for a missing father) are just too mundane for me in this setting. I wanted…more?…from a plot based in a location as weird as this one.
On the other hand, and to present a fair and even review of this novel, there were also some things I really liked. For example, the writing itself was great. It was smooth and intelligent and the punchy/snarky tone was fantastic. And I loved the way the book, like other extra-weird/unbelievable stories, was able to provide sarcastic and satirical commentary on real life in an insightful, light-shedding sort of way…a way that makes you realize the absurdities of our own reality, when they are reflected in a reality as bizarre as this one. There were quite a few times when I snorted, audibly, while listening (thank goodness I usually listen alone in my car, haha). There were so many little moments of brilliance and hilarity that I simply loved. It was just that they never added up to a whole that was greater than the sum of their parts (and again, we come back to the fact that I can totally see how this would work as a podcast, in shorter doses).
I realize that this review is definitely not a ringing endorsement of this book. But I’m more than willing, for this novel especially, to admit that it was a reader issue, not a book issue. And if this book sounds like one you’d be interested in, thematically and atmospherically, I would absolutely not let this review change your mind about that. Give it a try and then let me know what you thought, because I’m totally curious to hear other opinions on it – it’s a book that begs for a spectrum of reactions for sure.