The charms of “Welcome to Night Vale” are nearly impossible to quantify. That applies to the podcast, structured as community radio dispatches from a particularly surreal desert town, as well as this novel, written by the podcast’s co-creators, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor.
The aesthetic is deadpan, recounting bizarre happenings in a setting that sits precisely on the line between magic realism and outright absurdism. Mysterious hooded figures, an ominous secret police force and hidden cities all factor into the world Fink and Cranor have created.
The novel follows two parallel plots: Jackie Fierro, perpetually 19, is attempting to uncover the whereabouts of a man who left her with a message reading “KING CITY,” while Diane Crayton, mother of a shapeshifting teen, seeks a mysterious man who seems to be appearing across the town. For most of the book, Fink and Cranor find a good balance between whimsy and menace. An inanimate object might hold a clue to a mystery; it also might kill and resurrect the person who touches it, or cause him or her to relive his or her life. The quest plot lines play out along familiar lines, but the small details are where the story turns winning — and there are plenty of minute, memorably strange moments to be found along the way.
Tobias Carroll is managing editor of Vol. 1 Brooklyn.