Home Mystery Review: Alice Isn’t Dead (A Novel) – A Road Trip Like No Other

Review: Alice Isn’t Dead (A Novel) – A Road Trip Like No Other

alice isn't dead

Title: Alice Isn’t Dead: A Novel
Author: Joseph Fink
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Release Date: October 30th, 2018
Genre(s): Horror, Mystery
Subjects and Themes: Road Trip, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 336 (hardback)

Rating: 7/10

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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.

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“This isn’t a story. It’s a road trip.”

For those who don’t know, the original Alice Isn’t Dead is a three-part narrative podcast created by Joseph Fink–one of the brains behind Welcome to Night Vale–that follows a truck driver named Keisha in her search for her not-dead wife. While Fink calls the novel a “complete reimagining,” the two are actually pretty much identical–same characters, same plot, same weirdness. The only main difference is that the novel is told in third person, losing the intimacy of the podcast but gaining extra details.

Alice Isn’t Dead is surreal horror (there’s people-eating non-people, government secrets, cryptic people being cryptic) with its atmosphere driven almost entirely by the U.S. landscape. I mean, road trips have something of a surreal and fantastical quality to them. Like the wall of billboards and power lines that seem to stretch on forever. Like the small abandoned towns you pass through at night and you swear you see something dark and unreal from the corner of your eye. Fink captures that feeling perfectly and with such brevity.

Fink has a very distinct writing voice that’s hard to describe. In short it’s weird. But it’s a comfortable kind of weird. You get the sense that he’s not saying these things for the sake of being weird, but because his mind occupies this space between the dream world and the waking world and he just needs to let it all out.

It’s also an inclusive kind of weird. The writing isn’t someone boasting about how deep and unique their imagination is, but an eager kid tugging at your hand and whispering, “Come on. I want to show you something.”

Why did the chicken cross the road?
Because the dead return, because light reverses, because the sky is a gap, because it’s a shout, because light reverses, because the dead return, because footsteps in the basement, because footsteps on the roof, because the sky is a shout, because it’s a gap, because the grass doesn’t grow, or grows too much, or grows wrong, because the dead return, because the dead return.

While Fink excels with the strange and the occult, I think his biggest strength lies in capturing the minute complexities of people and their relationships–in this case, that of a married couple. While the first half is focused on the mysteries of cross-country serial murders, the latter half is dedicated to Keisha and Alice and untangling the whole “you made me think you were dead” knot. It’s wonderful stuff.

I did find the structure of the story a little too rigid, though. One chapter corresponds to one episode, and so each chapter feels very self-contained and the transition between one to the next kind of choppy. It reads very much like a podcast-to-book adaptation, and if you’re looking for that, then great. I personally wanted something more loose and…novel-y.

If this is your first foray into the mind of Joseph Fink, then welcome. Buckle in. Half the time you’ll be sitting there thinking “WTF,” and the other half you’ll be sitting there thinking “WTF” with a huge grin on your face.

(Oh, and go listen to the podcast)

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss. All opinions are my own.

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21 comments

Erica Mae November 20, 2018 - 10:42 pm

This sounds really good! I rarely read horror/suspense but I think I have to try this one out! Awesome review!

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Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky November 21, 2018 - 7:38 am

Thanks, Erica! I don’t much horror either, and I’ve no idea why because I usually enjoy most of the ones that I do read. I’m just so used to picking up fantasy, I guess?

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andywinder November 21, 2018 - 12:01 am

Ooh I used to love Welcome to Night Vale and have heard of this podcast! How does the book compare to WTNV?

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Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky November 23, 2018 - 7:43 am

I haven’t read the WTNV books but comparing the podcast to this book…I’d say I’m more partial to WTNV? But the Alice Isn’t Dead *podcast* is fantastic and super atmospheric and gives WTVN a run for its money. 😀

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pcochrun November 21, 2018 - 1:23 am

Very cool! I haven’t heard of the podcast. Maybe I’ll give it a try.

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Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky November 21, 2018 - 7:41 am

The podcast is fantastic–so weird and atmospheric. And I highly recommend listening to it at night (unless you get scared easily!) 😀

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pcochrun November 21, 2018 - 4:23 pm

Love it! I need to up my podcast game… I’ve really only listened to Serial, and that was 4 years ago!

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Tammy November 21, 2018 - 1:33 am

I’m intrigued. I have not read/listened to Nightvale, but I love the idea of a podcast/novel for the same story. Not sure about his writing style, based on your example, but still intrigued!

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Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky November 23, 2018 - 7:13 am

That quote is admittedly one of the more dramatic ones in the book. 😀 Most of the story is more toned down!

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jennifertarheelreader November 21, 2018 - 4:21 am

Terrific review, Kathy! You precisely describe what works and doesn’t, and overall, this sounds like a good read! Heart

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jennifertarheelreader November 21, 2018 - 4:21 am

♥️

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Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky November 23, 2018 - 7:12 am

Thanks, Jennifer! <3 And haha I'll happily take BOTH version of your hearts. 😀

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OMG That Song Tag – Aurora Librialis November 21, 2018 - 6:25 pm

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Vera November 22, 2018 - 8:02 am

I love when a book speaks to us. I can so related to that lovely feeling. Great review!
This book sounds interesting but honestly this weird may be too much for my ‘weird” 😊 I could download a sample though to see if I could get into it. 😊 I’m all for weird … as long as it’s aligned with my weird he he. 😂
Thanks for the podcast recommendation!

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bookbeachbunny November 22, 2018 - 5:37 pm

Well the pedigree on this one makes it even more interesting. I used to love Welcome to Nightvale! And I’ll check out the podcast for sure!

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Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky November 23, 2018 - 7:18 am

Yay! I hope you like it! The podcast is worth a listen JUST for the weird “Why did the chicken cross the road” and knock knock jokes that we get at the end of every episode. 😀

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Susy's Cozy World November 23, 2018 - 9:14 am

I love weird but horror is not my cup of tea, so I don’t think I would read this one, but maybe I would try the podcast and see how it goes 🙂

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waytoofantasy November 26, 2018 - 5:49 pm

Oh wow, I hadn’t heard of this one. I remember really liking Nightvale when it first came out. Great review, glad you enjoyed it.

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Norrie November 29, 2018 - 5:57 pm

Oh, another podcast book! Sounds interesting.
I love horror, but this sounds like something quite unlike to anything i’ve read before.

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Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky January 2, 2019 - 6:42 am

I really really recommend the podcast! Especially if you like bizarre horror. And the narration is just So Good. *kisses fingers*

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