I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
In 2012 Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor began the podcast called Welcome to Night Vale, set in the "average desert town" of Night Vale, and from what I understand, is done as a radio broadcast filled with such things as Community News, Science Time, announcements from the City Council, and of course words from their sponsors. The interns at the radio station remind me of the drummers for Spinal Tap and share a bizarre fate. Cecil is the friendly voice people hear who tell you all about the town and the people in it.
The book opens up in the Pawn Shop. Jackie Fierro, who has just turned nineteen for as long as she can remember, runs it. If you have something you want to pawn, you go in and must first wash your hands and lay the item on the counter. Jackie will offer you eleven dollars for it. You will say nothing. Then she will offer her real price. It may be more money, less money, or something else, such as dreams, experiences, or visions. Then you die, but only for a little while. The item is given a price tag of eleven dollars and you are given a ticket for it you can exchange for the item. You can look at the ticket and remember the item at any time for free. Jackie opens and closes the shop when her gut tells her it's time. This is her life.
One day, Old Woman Josie, who lives with angels (which you are illegal to admit exist), comes in with some wrapped up plastic flamingos she doesn't want anyone to touch. Jackie takes them and gives her a good nights rest in exchange. A man came in with a Mercedes that was put on top of the shelf (she gave him five dollars). Right before closing Diane Crayton, whom Jackie recognized as one of the PTA organizers, came in. Diane offered a tear and Jackie gave her eleven dollars. This was when the man in the tan jacket and deerskin suitcase showed up. He looked completely normal and completely forgettable. He gave her a slip of paper with the words KING CITY on it to pawn. She gave him thirty dollars and an idea about time. Then she gave him his ticket, while holding the paper he had given her. Then he was gone. Jackie would find that she would be unable to remember anything about him other than his tan jacket. Also, she could not get that piece of paper to leave her hand.
There is a house with a personality and a soul with a faceless old woman hidden inside it. More importantly, though, it is Diane and her son Josh's house. Josh is fifteen and can take any shape he wants. His father, Troy Walsh, left when he was born, and now Josh is becoming rather curious about him. Diane tries really hard with Josh and Josh, who does not socialize well, often misunderstands her, as she does him. She is trying to teach him to drive, which is difficult when he refuses to take a form conducive to the task. She really doesn't date and has few friends. Diane works for a company that sends out mailers to people (uh, huh) and her job is to provide the marketing department with information from the database she has created that includes very detailed information about the people of Night Vale, so they can target the right people. At work, everyone is rather worried about two missing people: Dawn and Evan. There's talk of checking in on them at home. Then Evan, acting weird, wearing his usual tan jacket, shows up at her desk and then her phone rings with Evan telling her he can't come in and can she tell their boss Catherine? When she walks out to where everyone else's desks are, there's Dawn who says she's just been out sick for a couple of days and no one remembers Evan, whose desk is gone. She also has to sweat it though a meeting with her boss about why she's asking about a person who never worked there and things that never happened. These are things that can get you fired or worse (I guess this is when I mention the Sheriff's Secret Police and the sedans around town with the mysterious people who take pictures, but forget to turn off the flash and ruin the picture. There's also microphones all over the place and mysterious lights in the sky.) and besides, maybe she was wrong.
Jackie is now at the Moonlite All-Nite, the most popular place in town to eat (some of their regulars really are regulars because they are stuck in a time-loop). They now serve invisible pie, but it's not for everyone. Laura, the waitress, has many branches from which fruit grow that you can pick some if you want. For Jackie, coffee at the Moonlite in the morning was part of her routine. When she was done, she would whisper into her water glass for the check, get it from under the sugar packets, put the cash under them, and wait for the sound of swallowing to know that the bill has been paid. Then she would open the pawn shop. But she did not do this today. Everything was off since she had picked up that piece of paper. She had tried burning it, taking a shower with it, ripping it up, but it just kept reappearing in her hand. She had no friends, as they had all grown up, but that never bothered her, because she had her life, her routine. Now that was being messed with by this piece of paper, that was also making her only be able to only write the words KING CITY. She needed to find the man in the tan jacket.
Jackie heads out to see Old Woman Josie and the angels all named Ericka for answers. It seems this man has been giving out pieces of paper all over town and no one can remember much about him. Josie does know more than she can tell Jackie. What she can tell her is that he comes from a dangerous place it may not be possible to come back from. She also tell Jackie that what she is going to go through will be very dangerous and that if she lives though it, she will not be the same person she was before. Josie also tells her she has to go to the most dangerous place in Night Vale if she wants answers: The library. Instead of going to the library, Jackie goes to her mother's house, since her mom had called her earlier. She knew exactly how to get there, but once there, she had no memory of ever being in that house, even as her mother was telling her stories of her childhood that she also did not remember. Instead of going to the library, she next goes to the scientists for answers and only finds out that King City is a place, but it is a place that seems to be totally inaccessible by any means.
One thing Diane and Josh had together was movie night. When they went out one night, Diane saw a man working there who looked just like Troy. Later that week she went back the the theater to ask the ticket girl who he was and when he'd be back. At work, she's now getting little done. She found a notebook in her car and on a piece of it is written in Josh's hand "I want to meet this guy." Below that in someone else's "I'll get you his number, but don't call him yet." "I won't. Duh. Does he have a picture? I want to know what he looks like." "If he doesn't I can get one." "What's his name?" Diane assumes that Josh must be interested in a guy, but how does she bring this up to him considering how she found out? On the way home she is pulled over by a cop who is like a clone of Troy. Later when she goes to the Moonlite, she finds a Troy working there. Getting desperate for answers about Troy, she stays late at work and sneaks into her co-workers computers for information, including her boss's, but finds nothing. The next morning Josh confronts her about why she's been gone so much lately, so she invents a relationship. She takes this opportunity to ask him about the mysterious note, which Josh had been dreading she would find, not because it was about a boy, but because he was tying to find out about his father. When Diane asks about the boy he is interested in, he lies just as she just did. For a moment, they actually had a connection, even if it was based on a lie. Then Josh asks to borrow the car and when she tells him no, he tries to wheedle her a bit, which of course backfires and the two start their days badly.
Later Josh calls Diane and comes clean about looking for his father and wants to know why he can't meet him or know about him and Diane does not have an answer for him. She just knows that its more important than ever to find out why there are so many Troys and what they are up to and want before Josh finds him, and why she is looking so hard for Evan. At this point she gets a text "evan" with a photo. Then, "remember?" She texts back: "evan. I remember, but no one else does. i've been looking for you. where are you." He texts that he'll come to her and the next thing Diane know she is no longer in her house, but in the Moonlite. She takes pictures of him and he gives her one of those pieces of paper with his name on it and King City. Evan knows Troy, but won't say how. He wants Diane to give the KING CITY paper to Josh. Then he's gone.
Someone told Jackie that Diane has something to do with the man in the tan jacket. Jackie also saw Troy hanging around her mom's house and has been tracking them down. In this process, her and Diane keep running into each other, which makes Jackie suspicious about Diane, and Diane pissed of about a teenager trying to dig into her business. Both of them come to realize that the information they need can only be found in one place: the place you can always find information (even today--do visit!) The Library. The two run into each other at the entrance and decide to help each other out. Diane wants to know about Troy and Jackie wants to know about King City. There really is no way to describe the library scene, so I won't. You'll just have to read the book. But I promise. It's totally worth the price of admission.
This book will remind readers of the late-great Douglas Adams in writing style. It has that same absurdest language set in a rather upside down worlds (though this one is on Earth, not in space, but both do have houses), with that undertone of sadness that courses through. It is excellent storytelling and such a well crafted town you have no trouble imagining it. The characters are delightful, dastardly, motherly, teenagerish, bizarre, tough, caring, determined, bull-headed, willingly clueless, and unlike anything you will encounter anywhere else. And you will love them and Night Vale. These are people who accept Night Vale as it is. They say nothing when rules arbitrarily change, the City Council requires a ritual sacrifice, the clouds glow, there are lights glowing above the Arby's, it can be hard to get a job and when you do, it can be a very weird one, or how the byzantine traffic laws are on a need-to-know basis and you can get a speeding ticket in bed. No one ever leaves Night Vale and no ever comes to Night Vale, until the recent arrival of the scientists. And it's all fine.
The good news is that you do not have to wait for another book (who knows when they might get around to another one). They have a pod cast that can take you there anytime you want and they have it archived all the way back to the beginning, so if you are like me who likes to start there you can. They are on iTunes, Stitcher, Podbay.fm, Soundcloud, etc. Also youtube.com/welcometonightvale and welcometonightvale.com. It airs twice a month and is totally FREE! What can be better than that?
Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Welcome-Night-Vale-A-Novel/dp/0062351427?ie=UTF8&keywords=welcome%20to%20night%20vale&qid=1460645670&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1