Alice Isn’t Dead is podcaster-turned-authorJoseph Fink’s adaptation of his same-named audio drama, but as a book, it offers a very different trip—both from its aural forebear, and from Fink’s other multimedia franchise, Welcome to Night Vale. Alice begins by warning the reader that it is a road trip, and not a book, and this is true, in a sense; while more traditionally and narratively focused than its episodic kin, which was presented as a dreaming series of CB radio broadcasts sent across the airwaves by a lonely trucker, Fink’s novel still manages to build an unsettlingly surreal atmosphere, loaded with weird imagery and jaunts to strange places on the margins of the world. It’s a vibrant and unnerving backdrop upon which to unfold a story of supernatural conspiracy, but the book’s center is as much about the journey as the destination, and the questions as much as the answers. Our chief companion on this trip is a woman searching for her missing wife, whom she encounters and loses again and again as they overcome their past trauma and hopefully, close the distance between them.
After her wife Alice dies, Keisha is left alone to deal with her grief. She slowly drifts away from friends and support groups, and tries to piece together life with a hole in the middle of it where the woman she loved used to be. Yet just as she’s started to process her loss, Keisha begins seeing Alice lurking in the background of newscasts chronicling major disasters and catastrophic accidents all over the country. With this slim lead, Keisha gets a job with the same trucking company that once employed Alice and sets off across the dark highways of the United States, determined to understand what really happened. But Alice is only a small gnat trapped in a vast, sinister spiderweb of shell companies and government conspiracies, and far from delivering her closure, Keisha’s investigation only leads her deep into an ages-old conflict, and ever more dangerous territory.
Alice Isn’t Dead runs on an engine of eerie ambiance. Joseph Fink’s America has a feel to it—a sense that there’s something slightly off, from a city on a beach of fish bones that advertises itself as “the last free place,” to the fleshy truck stop diner who eats eggs with his fingers, to a villain who talks in jumbled fragments that only serve to make her threatening even before she gets down to making actual threats. There’s a certain lyricism to the quick-moving prose—descriptions of places just as the light fades, and moments of terror so intense that breathing is an afterthought. Fink’s narrative was inspired by his cross-country tours of America with the Night Vale crew; here, he creates a road trip for Keisha to follow that feels real. It probably doesn’t exist within the bounds of the United States, but it might.
Any adaptation invites comparisons to the source material, though this one certainly works independently of the podcast. While the podcast was a wild, meandering magical-realist road trip through the bizarre heart of America, the book tightens things. In either format, Alice Isn’t Dead is, at its core, the story of Keisha and Alice, and their intertwining lives, just as much as it is about a secret war between strange, immortal factions vying for control of the world. The novel is both more expansive, with multiple points-of-view and a greater insight into Alice and Keisha’s pasts and relationship, and slightly shorn of some of its more episodic detours. What was a lonely travelogue becomes a propulsive cat-and-mouse chase between Keisha and the monsters on her tail, and the result is very difficult to put down.
This is a horror story with suspense and atmosphere to spare, but it’s that foregrounding of the central relationship that guns its engine ever onwards into the darkness: Alice’s overprotective nature, Keisha’s driven search for answers, and of the hope for healing and redemption out there on the road. There’s plenty here to surprise even seasoned listeners of the podcast, and will surely satisfy fans of Welcome to Night Vale inclined to further explore the planet of Fink’s. At the very least, they’ll finally learn why the chicken crossed the road.
Alice Isn’t Dead is available now in a signed edition from Barnes & Noble. Listen to our interview with Joseph Fink on the Barnes & Noble Podcast.