From the New York Times bestselling co-author of It Devours! and Welcome to Night Vale comes a fast-paced thriller about a truck driver searching across America for the wife she had long assumed to be dead.
“This isn’t a story. It’s a road trip."
Keisha Taylor lived a quiet life with her wife, Alice, until the day that Alice disappeared. After months of searching, presuming she was dead, Keisha held a funeral, mourned, and gradually tried to get on with her life. But that was before Keisha started to see her wife, again and again, in the background of news reports from all over America. Alice isn’t dead, and she is showing up at every major tragedy and accident in the country.
Following a line of clues, Keisha takes a job as a long-haul truck driver and begins searching for Alice. She eventually stumbles on an otherworldly conflict being waged in the quiet corners of our nation’s highway system—uncovering a conspiracy that goes way beyond one missing woman.
Joseph Fink is the creator of the Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn't Dead podcasts, and the author of the New York Times bestselling novels Welcome to Night Vale, It Devours!, and The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home (all written with Jeffrey Cranor) and Alice Isn’t Dead. He is also the author of the children’s novel, The Halloween Moon. He and his wife, Meg Bashwiner have written the memoir, The First Ten Years. They live together in the Hudson River Valley.
I don't know what to say about this book except it is a weird one. Then I realized this author wrote Welcome to Night Vale, which read like an acid trip with bath salts. I can't even begin to start to review this book because it is really weird. Keisha's wife Alice disappears. Two years later, they have a funeral. One day, Keisha is watching the news and sees her wife in the crowd of a news clip. Then she starts seeing Alice in the crowd in all kinds of clips. Keisha decides to become a truck driver to find her missing wife. Sitting at a truck stop eating lunch, she notices the serial killer called The Hungry Man. He seems to be hunting her. In fact, there is a whole underground group of serial killers. All misshapen and foul. Hungry Man is popping up all over the place, where Keisha is eating people in broad daylight with no consequences. Let's just say it gets weirder from here.
Not that long before, on a highway in Georgia, a wife she hadn't seen in over two years had left a billboard with some advice, and now she was going to listen to it. Who was she to fight a war this lopsided? Her wife had perhaps decided to fight it, and her wife had disappeared.
A distraught woman gets a job as a long-distance trucker so she can search for her missing wife. In her travels she stumbles upon a vast . . . um . . . serial murder conspiracy . . . I guess? Much inner contemplation, and many flashbacks ensue.
As you might have surmised, I was pretty disappointed in this one. The story may work as a podcast, but as a book it was slow, dull, and really could have used some humor. I did enjoy the parts of the story where Keisha and Alice were together, and I began letting out deep sighs when the writer returned to the "thrilling" mystery.
This is one that I forced myself to finish, and now I'm wondering why I bothered.
Alice has been dead, or at least presumed dead, for quite some time. Her wife Keisha has mourned her. She has attended therapy. She has tried to control her anxiety, but it’s just too much... especially as she starts to see Alice in the news. Not as a feature of the broadcast, or as a newscaster, but as just a person in the background crowds always staring straight at the screen. Keisha decides to go on a road trip, as she’s now sure that Alice isn’t dead.
Written by Joseph Fink, one of the two creators of the popular Welcome to Nightvale series. Alice Isn’t Dead feels like it could very well take place in the same universe... except that Nightvale is funny, whereas Alice is dead serious. Bad things happen here. There’s a fairly high body count and some of those deaths are rather gruesome. It’s not explicit like an extreme horror novel, but it’s very clear what is happening to the people who have the misfortune of meeting one of the things along the road.
This book owes a great debt to David Lynch. Much more so than Nightvale even. In Nightvale the unexplained weirdness is so over the top and comical, where here it is threatening and just close enough to reality to make it uncomfortable. The Thistle Officer who changes her name every conversation reminds me rather unnervingly of the "Mysterious Man" from Lost Highway. I mean that in a complimentary fashion as he’s my favorite character in any Lynch film... but it adds to the overall uncomfortableness of the book
Let’s talk a moment about anxiety. Keisha suffers from it, and let me tell you, if you do too be prepared for a potential panic attack because Fink gets it like few other authors do. I felt myself starting to experience it quite frequently not during the monster encounters, but when Fink would describe the feeling of anxiety.
“It is often said that bad experiences are like nightmares. But what Keisha noticed most was how real it was, how she couldn’t escape its reality, how she would never be able to convince herself she had remembered any part of that evening incorrectly.”
That... that feels too real.
Overall I really enjoyed this one. I wish I could say I liked it more but I have two very big issues with it. First, frankly, the villains toyed with the characters too much for things that have managed to work in the shadows/survive so long. There were so many times where I felt it just seemed off that Keisha wasn’t flat out murdered. Also, the ending... no spoilers, but I’m not a fan of the approach Fink takes. It almost feels like the ending to a much different book.
In closing: I enjoyed it for what it was. I wish I had loved it. Still, I’ll take enjoyable. 3/5 stars.
Hand upon hand, she thought, upon leg upon heart upon couch upon a day where we made pizza together. That's love, Alice. That's what it's made of. And so what is this?
Alice isn't Dead. Keisha, her wife, knows this to be true, and so she's set aside her life and embarked on a journey across America to find her and bring her home. But, this being based on a podcast from one of the creators of Welcome to Night Vale, you might have guessed that the course of this particular true love was never going to run so smooth. And you'd be right, because there are forces at play here, and as she finds herself caught in a secret war that's run for centuries at least, Keisha starts to realise that there really might not be a way out of this one.
I'm a long-time fan of Welcome to Night Vale, and I enjoyed this podcast as well - though the book definitely skimps on the "regional urban myth per episode" format they embraced through the first season, before allowing the overarching plotline to come to the front and stay there. I'm still looking for the book or podcast that focusses on that, and does it well... But Alice isn't Dead doesn't disappoint when it comes to that overarching plot. It's allowed the freedom to proceed at a leisurely pace, which I think is a good choice when at least your initial readers are going to come from a podcast where you're usually waiting between instalments. The writing, too, is unhurried without being lazy, and Joseph Fink writing alone is a delight. It's straightfoward prose, and yet there's something captivating about that simplicity and straightfowardness that suggests it's the "natural makeup" of writing styles; it takes a lot more effort and thought to seem so natural and uncontrived.
Entire medieval cities could fit into one of these parking lots. At night, in the least lit corners, teenagers learned the best secrets of being an adult, before trudging, the next day, to their cashier jobs in the Target or the cell-phone stores to learn the worst secrets of being an adult
The story is relatively straight forward itself, which makes the few subsequent twists even more effective. I love Keisha - her anxiety is part of her from the first few pages, and yet even when it almost cripples her, it's never allowed to define her. Instead, it shapes her, and there's more than one terrifying confrontation where she snarls that terror at whatever opposes her. After all, as she says, when you live your life terrified, you're prepared for fear, you face it every day just leaving the house, and the big bad monsters are going to need more than just being scary. It was empowering for we Anxiety Bros, and never crossed into feeling patronising or pandering.
Happiness is not negated by subsequent pain. But it does make the possibility for future happiness seem dimmer. Every good moment is shadowed by the question of that moment's longevity.
This was a great book, one I'm sure I'll come back to again. Whether you've listened to the podcast or not, if you like your horror and your heroines both to have teeth, I don't think you'll be disappointed.
I was going to give this 2 stars because there's some quotes I liked but y'know what, no, I'm giving it one star because I Hate It. The description of this sounds so promising, but please don't be fooled, the plot is ridiculous, vague, and incredibly unsatisfying, and the characters are noticeably one-note. Just.....think of The X-Files, and how it starts off with some strong mysteries but eventually veers off into "we didn't plan this story out that far in advance and the myth-arc is going to change season by season depending on how we feel at the time, resulting in no satisfying answers to the questions we raised". Now imagine that, but without Mulder and Scully- that's about how enjoyable this book is. Sometimes a super weird location will be introduced and abandoned within one page. Parts of it reminded me of Supernatural fanfiction, but specifically poorly done ones that I would have quit reading. Also And I get that this is all a metaphor for various facets of American society- which like, yeah! true! I see what you're trying to do and your assertions are generally correct! but the thing is this book sucks and that's that on that
From the creator of the wildly popular podcast, Welcome to Night Vale, comes a story about a young woman roaming the highways of America as a truck driver looking for her wife whom she believes to still be alive. Along the way she will encounter deformed. zombie-like men and women, members of a secret government agency and a group of timeless mythical beings.
Like Welcome to Night Vale, Alice Isn’t Dead started as a podcast a few years ago under the banner “Night Vale Presents..”. Now, creator Joseph Fink brings you the complete story from start to finish in the form of a novel.
I found the first half of this duller than a bag of hammers. Sure, there’s lots of world building to establish here but the pacing was slower than molasses in January (and this is coming from someone who loves good world-building). When it came time to turn up the horror elements to eleven, I didn’t find that any of it grabbed me or put a chill deep into my bones. I think this has to do with the fact that I appreciate more atmospheric terror when it comes to my scares rather than straight up gross-out body horror.
It’s not all bad though - the novel’s main protagonist, Keisha, was someone I identified a lot with given her struggles with anxiety. I felt a deep connection with her and her initial inability to stray from the beaten path. Even though the whole purpose of taking that job with a trucking company was to find her missing wife, she nearly balks at the opportunity to follow-up on a lead because she is afraid she will jeopardize her job. As the novel progresses, she becomes stronger and more determined. Fink succeeds in presenting a character with natural progression rather than going with the tried and true, “I’m a badass now” trope.
The history of Keisha and Alice’s relationship is revealed slowly over the course of the story and given my connection with Keisha, I found this to be the most enjoyable part of the novel, despite it lacking all the scary bits the book is primarily sold on. Fink shows true talent when getting down the intricacies of a long-term relationship. I won’t go so far as to say he’s better at this than the Lovecraftian story-telling style he’s known for (his Night Vale podcast is tremendous), but it’s definitely something I hope is not lost in the shuffle when everyone is just focusing on the horror elements of the book.
In the end, just like Fink’s prior novel “Welcome to Night Vale”, I’m just not digging his written work. I think he is an incredible audio-storyteller and given that “Alice Isn’t Dead” is also a podcast, I’m thinking about going back and listening to that show from the beginning. I’m guessing that might be the preferred narrative seeing that is how it all started.
I cried at the end. It's not even a sad ending, I've just been following the podcast since the very beginning and can't believe the story is over. I loved it. I love it. The podcast. The book. Both absolutely creepy, thrilling, inspiring, and wonderful.
I’ve heard big things about the authors first book Welcome to Night Vale, when this turned up at my local library, the interesting concept on the cover, made it sound like a book I would like. Weird, strange occurrences, supernatural stuff, conspiracies. All my kind of stuff.
However, after reading it I was quite disappointed. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised as the blurb on the inside cover said it would appeal to fans of Twin Peaks and American Gods. So, I should have expected wandering, slightly confusing waffling with little to no satisfying conclusion in sight.
Keisha, our hero, is searching the US backroads as a truck driver. While grieving for her wife, Alice, Kiesha keeps seeing her appear in the background in news reports. Seeing her frequent appearances, Kiesha becomes a long-distance truck driver to continue her search. On this quest, Kiesha falls into a macabre, sinister conspiracy involving the government, secret corporations and monstrous cannibalistic serial killers.
Its not that this book didn’t have its good points. The early part of the book I thought was the stronger part, the way the mystery was kept, with Kiesha unsure on what is happening, if what is happening is even real and with no idea on what the terrible things she is seeing are about or how her wife was linked into these cryptic events. Kiesha was interesting to begin with too. Keisha, the meeker one in her marriage, who must battle her crippling anxiety to keep ahead. However, this gets old past halfway, after her anxiety problems are brought up ON ALMOST EVERY PAGE. I get it, it does not have to keep being mentioned, readers tend not to have goldfish memories, its just when it kept saying ‘her anxiety’ I started to groan, thinking ‘this again’.
The plot starts of mysterious, with twist and turns, however the maze these twists lead you into are dead ends or very disappointing conclusions. The plot is; there are these men across the country, what Keisha calls the ‘The Thistle Men’ from the logo on their shirts, disgusting, grossly misshapen men, who kill and eat people, who seem to have a kind of power to them, that people see them but at the same time don’t. They are in secret alliance with the US government, operating out of secret military bases. Fighting them, is a company Bay and Creek, a shadowy multi-national organised to fight the Thistle Men. Also thrown into the mix are spectral sightings of hoodie wearing figures know as Praxis, also battling against the Thistle Men, and Keisha is thrown into this secret war searching for her wife.
But then the plot descends into ‘because’ territory. Why are the Thistle Men evil, or exist at all? Because (you do get some small explanation that a racist, bigoted man turns into one over time as his hate builds but never given a full reason why). Why is the government working with them? Because (a couple line paragraph, that they kill ‘enemies of the state’ for the government, again given no real explanation why). Why is Bay and Creek fighting them? Because. Why is …shocker, Bay and Creek in secret alliance with the Thistle Men? Because. I could go on even more. This is what the problem with book was for me. Nowhere was there any satisfying reason for anything that was happening. Which for me is the worst type of book, a well written book for the most part that just sort of happens in terms of plot.
There are number of other characters in this book, Sylvia a teenage runaway who lost her mother to the monsters, Lucy, commander of Bay and Creek and of course Alice. But these only keep popping in and out so you never get a good feel of them other than Sylvia, smart, shy, anxiety ridden (again mentioned all the time), Lucy strong, secretive, Alice loves Kiesha. Wafer thin characters I struggled to bond with. None close to written as strongly as Kiesha.
Sometimes I think I’m stupid. In the other reviews here, they’ve mentioned the political aspect of it. I didn’t really see one, other than nasty racist people, if they’re nasty turn into monsters apparently and very vague conspiracy with the government.
The book finishes with a big climatic battle between Kiesha, Alice and a nationwide group they’ve built of people who’ve become embroiled in this fight and the Thistle Men and Bay and Creek. Kiesha and her side win. And they live happily ever after. I’m not joking that is essentially what it is. No mention of any consequences of fallout after the defeat of the Thistle Men or Bay and Creek.
Perhaps, as this is the book of his very popular podcast, the story works better being told as a podcast, that loses out being told this way, I don’t know. While the writing style was decent, the missing plot explanations, which not every book needs, but this definitely needed one, really turned this book into a dud for me. So much so, that his first and very popular book Welcome to Night Vale, I will have big reservations in whether I’ll bother reading it. Not one I’ll be willing to recommend.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Listened this as an audiobook and I can highly recommend it. Was intrigued from beginning to end and found it very exciting and intriguing. Never a dull moment even in it's slower parts. Don't think I've read anything else by Joseph Fink before but after this I'm highly interested to do so
This book proclaims from the get go to be not a story, but a road trip. Well, awesome. I love stories and dream of road trips. Bring it, book. And the book did. To be fair, obviously, yes it’s a story, quite a good one at that and yes, as a road trip it’s actually quite nightmarish, certainly not the one you’d want to find yourself on. But what a trip. Alice isn’t dead. She’s been gone for a while, buried even (sans body), but her wife knows otherwise. And sets off driving a truck across the country to find her. Only to find a sinister conspiracy and become entangled in a classic good/evil battle. So yeah, a supernatural war set along American motorways…wait, isn’t there a show just like that appropriately enough named Supernatural? Why yes, there is, record fourteen seasons and counting, proving that three best looking men on tv can hold a lot of sway indeed. But no, this book is nothing like it. For one thing is heavily estrogen powered, for another…well, it’s just very much its own thing. Completely original. Fresh. Authentic. Heavily moralistic, too, especially once you find out the truth behind the origins of the evil organization, but that’s neither here nor there. Except to say that the inevitable final standoff just wasn’t quite as satisfying as all the mystery leading up to it. The leading up was pure magic at times, the author created such a terrific eerily surreal atmosphere, a world almost but not quite recognizable or more like a world hiding behind the shadows, creeping…dangerous vicious hungry evil lurking in the shadows. That was awesome. And having a very realistic, anxiety ridden, protagonist enter this world and fight these shadows was very compelling to read about, much more so than had it been a stock unrelatably brave and valiant lead. So yeah, I liked this book a lot, read it in two sittings in one day and was thoroughly entertained throughout. Liked the story. Liked the ending very much. Even the cover on this book is awesome. I’ve heard of the author before, but having no experience with podcasts, wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, now expectations are set on high. Alice might even get a sequel, not that it needs one. But the author certainly has the talent and imagination to scare and delight an audience. And this deliciously eerie fairy tale (because it is, isn’t it, who but an Alice to lead you into a strange dark world hiding so near our own) is a terrific read for a variety of genre fans who enjoy their fiction dark and literary. Recommended.
Alice Isn't Dead is one of my favorite podcasts and while I enjoyed this slightly different take on the story here I definitely prefer the podcast. The sense of unease and dread is not as prevalent here and I really missed that. Plus, Jaskia Nicole performance really makes the tale.
I had been excited to listen to this. I made it through the fourth CD before giving up. I think I expected something more along the lines of Pines in tension-building and weird happenings. I thought there'd be a touchpoint in the madness to hang onto. However, this was vague, random, herky-jerky, and somewhat silly. It was also boring. I was struggling by the second disc so when Melki confirmed that throwing in the towel was the way to go, I threw hard.
The weirdest part of my reading experience with this book was that the only part I was interested in was Kiesha's and Alice's relationship, specifically their married years. If the romantic relationship is my point of interest in a book, you know that part is either written really well or the rest of the book is awful. I'm not sure why the main character is a black lesbian, maybe that becomes relevant at some point later in the story but during the parts I read, she got along super easily for a woman of color trucking her way across the United States by herself. Her one defining characteristic, her big obstacle and also her superpower, was her anxiety and that has nothing to do with race, gender, or sexual orientation.
I don't really feel like listening to the podcast now, either, because my interest in this story has soured.
"She couldn’t go home. Because home wasn’t a place. Home was a person. And she hadn’t found that person yet.”
WOW. And I thought I loved Night Vale. Full disclaimer, I only listened to the first season of the Alice Isn’t Dead podcast, so I can’t compare this to the podcast very much.
Holy shiz balls. This book, guys. If you’ve been looking for a queer story where the plot didn’t focus on the characters coming out, or dealing with suicide, or any of the stereotypical crap we have to deal with in real life, this is the book for you. A queer woman of color gets to lead a MYSTERY/HORROR ROAD TRIP NOVEL. HOW COOL IS THAT?
This book is very creepy. It’s concerned with the empty, abandoned places hidden on the sides of highways and the evil that lurks within. It’s also about a woman searching for her missing wife. Both plotlines are interesting and engaging and WOW Fink’s writing is utterly hypnotic.
I had tears in my eyes reading the ending to this book, because the characters felt so REAL. The story’s ending felt EARNED. And this is a book that’ll go up in my all time favs. Do yourself a favor, and check this one out. You won’t regret it.
A swing and a miss for me, which sucks because I was really hooked with the premise. There are so many ways to resolve a missing person case in fiction, which I guess is why people keep writing them. I was also hoping to get some residual nostalgia because I remember listening to WtNV way back in the day when it was first coming out, but in retrospect that might not have been fair of me; this work had a completely different vibe and the author is absolutely allowed to step out of my expectations when working on something new.
Scenes were paced too quickly for my liking, and weren't given enough time to pass in a natural way before we were moving on to the next place. (I get that there would be frequent scene changes when the main character is literally a long-haul trucker who is constantly on the move, but the prose still felt rushed.) I understand this was a podcast first, so I wonder if I would've enjoyed it more in that medium, but certain things that are central to the story make me think otherwise now that I've finished it. Things like the main mystery getting solved sooner than I expected or wanted it to be, or how there were some in-fiction inconsistencies with how threatening some characters were meant to be, or how the plot seemed to just run on autopiloted tropes for the entire second half.
There was a lot of eye-rolling moments towards the end that felt more like I was unexpectedly transported into a YA novel, so maybe I was never really the target demographic for this one. I just saw it was vaguely horror-adjacent and tried my luck. I'd probably recommend this to someone younger who's looking to dip their toe in the genre for the first time, but not really for anyone beyond that.
Somewhat related, listen to the 7-episode audiodrama "Carrier" by QCODE for an example of a female long-haul trucker in a horror story for something closer to what I was hoping to get out of this book.
A bit of a disappointment, Alice Isn’t Dead was touted as a reimagining of the spooky, affecting podcast but in its novelization lacked some of the things that made the podcast so gripping and, for the most part, was more of a lackluster distillation of the original rather than adding anything new.
As with the podcast, there are a lot of heady, thought provoking ideas filling up the novel, each intriguing in their use of the horrors of our daily existence in the United States to make the inevitable supernatural incursions feel even more unsettling. The atmosphere and world created by the podcast, sadly, does not quite come through in the novel. Without the voice of actor Jasika Nicole, telling the story of the anxious truck driver Keisha in the first person through snippets whispered into her truck’s CB radio, a lot of the immediacy and personality of the narrative is missing. Nicole’s voice, her inflections and emotion in audio, really bring Keisha to life, and, along with the other actors and the eerie soundtrack of Dispirition, make the podcast feel dynamic in a way that feels absent from the novel. Instead, Fink writes in the third person, following the first three seasons of the podcast quite directly as Keisha discovers that her wife, Alice, a woman she had thought dead, is alive and involved in some secretive conspiracy.
Working as a truck driver to make a living while tracking down traces of Alice and the people she works for, she encounters the forces of Thistle, hideous, menacing serial killers who oppose Alice’s organization. These scenes of travel, of the dark and forbidding places off the American highway, are intriguing and the relatable relationship that is developed between Keisha and Alice comes through in the novel as well as the podcast. Keisha, a gay woman of color suffering from mental illness, knows how terrifying life in America can be, so she seems uniquely suited for confronting these topical terrors. However, whatever expanded information the novel provides, particularly on the sinister, cruel, and implacable “officer,” the woman who may be the origins for the horrible Thistle Men, does not appear until the novel is nearly half over. Also, cutting out so much of the random weirdness that Keisha encounters on the road (which were, to me, really the heart of the story) makes it feel rushed, slightly unfinished. Less than the sum of its parts, the novelization magnifies the story’s flaws and some of the concerns I had all along.
It may not, perhaps, have been so noticeable had the work not been so overtly didactic at times. This is a deeply political novel which, by itself, is not a problem, I am happy to see authors instill their own progressive beliefs into their work, especially since, in the genre fiction Fink draws from, horror, mystery, and fantasy, authors often instill a more conservative worldview into their writing, one which they often won’t even admit is there. Fink seems committed to reflecting the reality of the diversity of the world and I greatly commend this.
While I feel that the ideas writhing around in the guts of the narrative, of writing of the terrors of contemporary life through the lens of supernatural horror, has a lot of strong promise, the allegory seems rather clumsy and simplistic in its implementation. In depicting the “terrible freedom” that is the cost of American exceptionalism, Fink is definitely not one for subtlety. One can see the critique of the neoliberal capitalist tolerance for, and collusion with, the fascistic tendencies of our society throughout the work, but I felt that the Thistle Men, as horrifying and scary as they are, are rather ineffective as a metaphor for the endemic racism and the alt right in the United States. It feels too easy that these slobbering, bloated, nearly inarticulate cannibals murdering indiscriminately on the highways represent the hate that bubbles up in US politics. Anyone could see that such creatures, while once human, are evil, but the true horror of the white supremacy and injustice in American capitalism is just how ingrained it is in “good” and “normal” people. It is easy to ignore and turn a blind eye to this evil that is within us all, whereas it feels to strain credulity that people are willing to “know” but “choose not to know” that hideous man-shaped blobs are roaming around literally eating people.
The use of the word Praxis as the mysterious opposing force to all the evil in the United States feels heavy handed in particular. A fancy Greek word for “practice,” it's a pretty basic term in philosophy referring to the actual practice of an ideology, rather than its theoretical discussion. Whether in theology or politics, “praxis” is the day to day ramifications of the philosophy in question and is an especially familiar concept for left leaning activists. As Praxis appears to be the only force able to oppose the Thistle Men and their enablers, its use here strikes me as akin to some “inspirational” novel having characters continually ask “who is this ‘Christ’ you speak of?” Reducing everything to the praxis of a drag out good versus evil fight makes it feel too clean and easy.
All in all, I feel that there are powerful ideas discussed throughout this work and I definitely don’t regret reading it, though I would certainly recommend the podcast instead, with the novel as a merely inessential addendum.
I have a hard time with podcasts - WTNV is one of the few I don't zone out on. I need to give Alice Isn't Dead a try because I've found the premise so intriguing from the very beginning. But I'm just not good at visualizing audio. So I was really excited when I found out this book was happening. I wasn't at all disappointed. I've always wondered about all of the creepy things one sees while travelling across the country. This book tells you about those creepy things. It's in the same literary tree branch as American Gods. This book has kind of changed the way I see the world - I'll never take road trips the same way again. My only complaint is that it got a little heavy handed toward the end, but if you're looking for a modern road trip classic, this is it.
Alice Isn't Dead is a really good novel. It's a really good horror book, a really good sci-fi/fantasy book, and a really good book about humans in general. Just from reading the plot summary, you might think this was a book all about some vast conspiracy involving the U.S. Government and a bunch of weird monsters. You'd be sort of right for thinking that, but it's also about so much more. Underneath all the monsters and supernatural wars is a love story between a woman and her wife. It's a story about losing someone you love, finding them, feeling betrayed, persevering against all odds, and coming together in order to save all you hold dear. It's a deeply intimate story, even with the giant scope of the subject matter. And that's what really makes this book something special. It's a story about people caught up in this giant supernatural event.
It would be super easy to feel lost in a story like this had Fink not grounded it so well with such an immediately relatable main character. From the first time we encounter Keisha, on the first page of the novel, we immediately identify with her. Fink does such a great job at getting us into her head and making us feel what she feels. Her struggle with anxiety will be immediately identifiable to anyone else who's struggled with it and the way she learns to cope with, and utilize, her anxiety is something that really resonates with me. Keisha is our window into this story and it's (mainly) through her that we experience the events. We see what she sees and we feel what she feels. Sure, the narration often shows us other people and events outside of Keisha's point of view, but it all ultimately comes back to her. Keisha, and her love for her wife (Alice), is what grounds this story. It's their relationship that makes this story work. It doesn't really matter who the Thistle Men are or why they do what they do because what we really care about is how Keisha and Alice will survive this story.
That's not to say, however, that the mystery of who the Thistle Men are and who's ultimately behind them and the supernatural war happening under the very nose of America isn't important, fleshed out, and ultimately solved in a satisfying way. Because while the story is mainly about Keisha's relationship with Alice and how it survives all that's happened between them, it's also about Keisha's journey to uncovering the secrets behind the Thistle Men, Bay and Creek, and the war between the two. It's a road trip story that takes Keisha all around America as she searches for answers: first as to where her wife is and later as to who is behind all of these strange and terrible events she's witnessing. In a way, Alice Isn't Dead reminds me a lot about Neil Gaiman's American Gods in the best way possible. Both are books about these huge supernatural wars between two sides who seem to hate each other. Both feature resolutions that prove that things weren't as they initially appeared. And both are largely road trip stories driven and revolving around a singular protagonist. Both novels use intimate stories about their main characters as the conduit to telling this larger story about supernatural wars. And both novels are superb.
I appreciate how this is a horror novel that doesn't really relish in how scary it is. The way Fink describes the Thistle Men will make your skin crawl and give you nightmares on end, but he doesn't linger with it. He tells you enough for you to get the picture and then moves on with the action. This isn't a book full of "jump scares"; it's a book that builds up its atmosphere and leaves you feeling like anything horrible could happen at any moment. It pumps you full of dread and fear for the main character. There are plenty of times where you really don't know if Keisha and Alice are gonna make it out of these events alive. You hope they will, but you realize they might not. It's a scary book that isn't obsessed with being scary. It's far more obsessed with exploring humanity. In the last third of the book, there's a lot of good exploration about humanity in general; what makes a human good or bad. There's this idea that we find it easy to call bad people monsters because it allows us to separate them from ourselves, to view them as un-human, as other. This book fights against that idea. At the end of the day, the scariest monsters are always humans.
It's worth noting that while Alice Isn't Dead is based on the podcast of the same name, this novel isn't just a novelization of the podcast. Yes, both the podcast and this novel tell what is essentially the same story, but the way they respectively tell it differs. The novel condenses and tweaks a lot of the events that happen in the podcast into a more concise series of events and even goes so far as to skip over entire episodes of the podcast as to include them in the novel would, quite frankly, totally destroy the pacing and forward thrust of the narrative. The novel doesn't differ from the podcast in what it doesn't contain, but there's also a whole lot of stuff added to the novel that isn't in the podcast. There's a lot you can do in novels, in terms of differing points of view, that you can't really do in a podcast that's being narrated from the point of view of a single character. So the novel features a ton of scenes that aren't in the podcast or were just alluded to having happened at some point. Point is: there's a lot in this book for fans of the podcast; it's not just the exact same story you've already heard. It's the same overall story but told in a different way with additions and changes and an entirely different feel.
Alice Isn't Dead is a genuinely good book. It's well written, featuring a number of dynamic, well-defined characters, each with clear motives and desires and agency. It's got a really good mystery that's ultimately resolved in a really satisfying way. It's full of strong prose that ushers the story along at a good pace. It might take a little bit to get going, but once it does, you won't want to put it down. It's a horror book in the best sense of that term: it explores the darkness of the worst of humanity and contrasts it with the brightness of the best of it. It's a story about love surviving in the worst of circumstances. It's a story of two people finding each other and forgiving each other after a major betrayal. It's a story about a woman coping with her anxiety and learning to use it to her advantage. It's a story about survival and fighting to save what you hold dear. It's an intimate story set against the backdrop of an epic one. If you enjoy scary stories about conspiracies, you'll enjoy this. If you enjoy survival stories, you'll enjoy this. If you enjoy stories of two lovers fighting for each other, you'll enjoy this. This is a great book by a great author. Read it. You'll enjoy it.
I've been bouncing back and forth about whether to give this book a 2 or a 3, and if it were able to, it would probably be given a solid 2.5. As is, I'm rounding up, because that's just what I decided to do.
My favorite part about this novel is easily the writing style. It's undeniable unique, somehow offering both discomfort and reassurance at the same time. It's something you need to experience to understand. And you know... Some part of me doubts that you'll ever find anything like it outside of Fink's works. That's quite enough to make me place value in this book.
I'm also more than a little impressed about how everything came together in the end. I was getting increasingly nervous as I neared the end of the book that none of the loose ends would be tied up - that parts of the mystery/conspiracy central to this story would go unsolved/unrevealed. I needn't have been so concerned. No matter how rough it seemed for a while, answers were waiting, and they were satisfying answers.
As for the story itself... I really liked the idea of it, I liked the characters, and I really liked certain parts of the story. But other parts just drug, felt slow or inconsequential. Toward the middle, especially, chapters would read like filler even if they weren't - in other words, important events weren't presented in a way that made them feel important. Instead, they felt like little codas, things that might be of intrigue in the moment but wouldn't come back later.
All in all, a good story with an excellent style, that's a little slow at times.
If you're a fan of horror or mystery novels, dive right in.
I'm a huge Night Vale fan (podcast and books), so I thought I would like this one more. However, I found the sort of rambling, meandering storytelling that works in Welcome to Night Vale didn't work here. I found myself frustrated with anything not advancing the main plot, and it it took way too long to get answers about anything. When we do get answers, I thought they were pretty spare and unsatisfying. I never quite understood what Thistle actually wanted. The explanation of the Thistle Men and Oracles felt lazy and preachy (Whether or not I agree with a theme, I don't particularly like it shoved down my throat, especially at the expense of potentially interesting worldbuilding). The final confrontation and the lead up to it felt rushed. I enjoyed Keisha and Alice, but the excruciating pacing and sparce worldbuilding made this one kind of a slog.
The podcast felt a lot more leisurely, even rambling. The book was much more to-the-point, cutting most of Keisha’s rambling into the radio and several scenes that weren’t crucial to the plot. I really enjoyed the podcast, and I think a lot of what I liked was Jasika Nicole’s narration. The book was kind of strange to read because I could hear a lot of it in her voice (especially lines that were the same). I don’t think the same creepiness in how the thistle men talk and the weird noises they make would have come across if I’d read the book without listening to the podcast first.
I’m glad I read the book mostly because towards the end of the podcast I zoned out a few times and didn’t catch everything that happened, so the book was a nice recap.
It's been a little while since I listened to the podcast so I cannot really remember how similar it is to what happened here in the audio book. It's billed as an alternate telling of the same plot from the podcast and it definitely hit all the same high notes, but I'm not sure how many of the small details are different. That being said, it might not be a good idea to listen to this immediately after finishing the podcast, but I think it's good if you want to revisit the idea and the characters at a later date.