Fink, Joseph & Jeffrey Cranor: Welcome to Night Vale

I tried both listening and reading to Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, which may have been my mistake. You see, I’m very picky about what audiobooks I listen to, because many books are just too slow out loud for my tastes. But I’d listened to the first chapter that was released as an extra on the podcast, and in general I’m just so used to Night Vale as an audio-first experience that I decided to give it a try.

I believe I got to about chapter 8 before I gave up, because it was just not working for me: as a novel, it’s far longer and slower than the podcast, naturally, and my mind was drifting far too much while I was driving. This is nothing against Cecil Baldwin’s performance as a narrator, which is excellent as always; it’s just not what works for me in audio.

But this may have carried over into my experience of the book, which basically felt like a whole lot of waiting for things to happen. And I genuinely have no idea how fair an assessment this is, because I tried to re-read once I knew the ending, to see the whole shape, and I couldn’t make myself do it; I kept checking social media and playing silly games instead, before I gave up and reminded myself this wasn’t homework, it was supposed to be enjoyable.

(Oh, another thing that didn’t dispose me well toward the book, which I think can be reasonably laid at the feet of its creators: the podcast episode that was released immediately before the novel was available was called “An Epilogue,” and opens thusly (via):

The last couple weeks, as we all know, have been eventful ones. I’m not going to go over everything again – we all know what happened. We are well read, well informed people who have paid attention to the whole recent “KING CITY” affair. We know about the terrible ordeals that Diane Crayton and Jackie Fierro endured. We know how their troubles all ended up. And we know the truth about The Man in the Tan Jacket. We know all about him now, because of what Diane and Jackie found out. So I won’t go over all of that.

Which is (a) not how people talk — commit to your framing device, damn it — and (b) the kind of thing that makes me want to say “Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up,” like Peter Falk in The Princess Bride. And the whole episode is like that, nothing happening but blatant teasers for the novel.)

So I was grumpy and felt like things were moving slowly when I shifted to reading; would the free-floating omni POV and expository prose have gotten on my nerves without that? For instance:

Josh sometimes appears human. When he does, he is often short, chubby-cheeked, pudgy, wearing glasses.

“Is that how you see yourself, Josh?” Diane [his mother] once asked.

“Sometimes,” Josh replied.

“Do you like the way you look?” Diane once followed up.

“Sometimes,” Josh replied.

Diane did not press Josh further. She felt his terse answers were a sign he did not want to talk much.

Josh wished his mother talked to him more. His short answers were a sign he didn’t know how to socialize well.

Similarly, was I discounting character development because of my mood, and failing to give enough slack to the need to establish location and worldbuilding for new readers, just because I already knew it? Would I have found charming and in-character the chapter that’s just a Carlos monologue, if I weren’t in the mood to say “ugh, that’s just an excuse to give Dylan Marron a speech for the audiobook?” I can’t say.

I can recognize that some of the book’s themes are laudable, even if I can’t make myself care about them. And I did enjoy some of the small touches, particularly the house’s thoughts and the man in the gray pin-striped business suit. Further, other podcast fans like this just fine–see, for instance, Amal El-Mohtar at NPR–so it can’t only be a book for readers new to Night Vale. But fairly or unfairly, it just wasn’t for me.

(Oh, and if you’re new to Night Vale and are arachnophobic, you want to avoid the book and podcast both.)

2 Comments

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  1. I have not been able to get interested in this one and reading the available excerpt did not help. It reads like a podcast, and a novel is not a podcast, and…yeah. Not surprised, alas.

  2. There are ways in which it’s definitely _not_ a podcast–the length and pace most specifically, plus the move outside Cecil’s POV (nominal as that is in some episodes). But the move to a different format was not fully successful, in my opinion.

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