When I was younger, my mom gave me warm milk to fall asleep at night. Now in my early twenties, it doesn’t do the trick. Instead, I often drift off with headphones lodged into my ears listening to the eccentric podcast, “Welcome to Night Vale.”
For the last three years, this radio-show podcast has gotten me through all the stress that comes with being a college student. The voice of the fictional host—Cecil Baldwin—is strangely cathartic as he relays Night Vale’s community updates. So when I first visited The Strand bookstore last year, I was excited to pick up the book adaptation written by the creators of the podcast, Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink. The book comes stocked with all the elements that make the Night Vale podcast uniquely weird—think The Twilight Zone meets ALICE IN WONDERLAND in a modern-day desert town.
But unlike the podcast, in which Cecil objectively reports the strange events happening in town, the book alternates perspectives between two women living in Night Vale. The first character we meet is Jackie Ferriro, a pawn shop owner who refuses to turn twenty, and therefore stilts adulthood by spending day after day buying strange items off Night Vale residents (a single tear on a tissue is worth quite a bit). Quite dissimilarly is Diane Crayton, a struggling single mother with a son who daily shape-shifts from a giant tarantula to a lampshade. When one of Diane’s coworker’s goes missing and no one else can remember him, she sets out to prove her sanity by investigating his disappearance.
Not long after, Diane’s co-worker shows up in Jackie’s shop to pawn a single piece of paper labelled “KING CITY.” Jackie thinks nothing of it as he hands it over, but the paper seems to have a mind of its own. No matter what Jackie does, she cannot rid herself of the slip. In turn, stubborn Jackie must emerge from the safety of her pawn shop to track down the strange man, and in doing so, finds herself running into Diane all over Night Vale. After Diane learns that her son also has a “KING CITY” slip, the two band together to discover who exactly the man is—and what role he plays in each of their lives.
As the two women chase answers to their myriad questions, they encounter solicitous angels, inter-dimensional lawn flamingos, and the town’s forsaken library run by malevolent librarians with “round black eyes and hairy brown teeth.” In the midst of NIGHT VALE’s outright absurdity, what emerges is a story about redemption, motherhood, and growing up in a world that doesn’t always make sense. The novel also features transcripts of Cecil’s beloved podcasts between chapters. These two-page tidbits offer a nod to its fan base and an accessible introduction to those who are new to the Night Vale universe.
After listening to the podcast for years, the book was a supplemental read that I wholly enjoyed. It is clear that the co-writers and creators of the show have a love of language, and it was exciting to see them take pen to paper and delve a little deeper into the lives of two Night Vale citizens. In fact, there is another book coming out this fall, IT DEVOURS, which once again dips into the offbeat lives of people living in Night Vale. And despite the local dog park that is almost definitely a hole into another universe, there is a little something in NIGHT VALE for everyone . . . trust me.