Sunday, April 3, 2016

Welcome to Nightvale - Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Welcome to Night ValeAs many people know, Welcome to Nightvale is a popular podcast about a town, called Nightvale, that is weird, and where weird things happen.  Unlike many people, I have not ever listened to this podcast.  I struggle with podcasts in general because I start thinking about something else and then realize I've missed everything that's going on and have no idea what's happening.  But the idea of Nightvale appealed to me, so when I saw this book at the library, I snapped it up!

This Welcome to Nightvale focuses on two main characters: Jackie, the nineteen-year-old owner of a pawnshop that sells back everything for eleven dollars, but offers payments like a good night's sleep, and Diane, a mother working at a marketing firm and who moonlights as a PTA member even though her son finished elementary school years ago.  Diane's son, Josh, is a typical teenager who doesn't know who his dad is, except that he's also a shapeshifter.

Trouble stars for Jackie when a guy shows up at her shop, gives her a piece of paper that says "King City" on it, and then vanishes.  Jackie would have forgotten him right away, except that she literally cannot get rid of the piece of paper.  No matter what she does to it, it reappears in her hand moments later.  Her obsession with the paper and how to get rid of it begins to devour her life.  Meanwhile, two of Diane's coworkers go missing, and only one comes back--and no one remembers the other at all.  And then, of course, Diane's ex and Josh's father, Troy, has begun appearing around town in a variety of occupations.  Diane, knowing that Josh wants to meet his father, is determined to do something about this, but she doesn't quite know what and so resorts to stalking Troy for lack of any better plan of attack.  Diane and Jackie's paths begin to criss-cross and they eventually decide to work together to decipher the mystery devouring their lives.

The plot of this book isn't really anything to write home about, getting dragged to and fro by random occurrences that have no real explanation as to why and how they happen.  It's Nightvale itself that holds the real appeal here.  It's a place where the diner serves invisible pie, where writing utensils have been outlawed and you need a permit to turn on a computer at home, and where the City Council and librarians are the two most terrifying forces around.  Meanwhile, King City lingers at the edge of some people's awareness, but all they really know about it is that it's bad news for whoever goes looking for it.  These things were all, on their own, quite cool, especially the library sequences.  That said, I think this book relies a little bit too much on Nightvale's weirdness to carry the plot, such as it is.  Too many plot points existed as "Oh, that's just the way it is."  I do not favor this sort of explanation in storytelling.  Building a compelling world is difficult, but it has to be done and done well.  Worlds don't have to adhere to our own world's logic, but they should contain a logic of their own.  I didn't feel that Nightvale had any internal logic at all.  All of its aspects, from City Hall to the diner to the library to the taco stand to, well, everything, worked alone, but very few of them worked in conjunction with each other.  It means that Nightvale is a cool veneer to look at but there's nothing really driving it underneath.  This might, of course, be the point, but it's hard to say for sure, and I really didn't like it that much at all.

2 stars out of 5.

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