Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink | Book Review

★★★★☆
January 25th – 27th

Every once in a while, you come across a book that feels vaguely familIar. It might be the fact that it’s written by an author you know and love, or the plot feels similar to something you’ve read before. These books shake you by the hand and greet you like an old friend. This is exactly how Alice Isn’t Dead made me feel. 

Almost ten years ago, I read a book called John Dies at the End by David Wong. I’ve mentioned this book before in a list of my favorites. I was 15, on a plane either to or from Seattle, and it was my first introduction into the realm of humor and horror together, a niche genre which I’ve come to love. That story wowed me with its dark humor and the way it took perspective for granted. It opened my mind to new possibilities. I had read contemporary. I had read horror. I had read fantasy. But I had never combined these things together with comedy thrown in. I was hooked.

I picked up Alice Isn’t Dead on a whim. The author created Welcome to Night Vale, a podcast I dabbled in when it was first beginning, but fell off rather quickly. I found myself hooked in this book, almost as eagerly as I was in John Dies at the End all those years ago.

Keisha is a truck driver. The book is a road trip. There are men made of disgusting yellow fat and oracles which keep their hoods far down over their faces. The whole story is a map of the United States, a comment on its sameness, and a counterpoint on its difference. Keisha is looking for Alice, her wife, who went missing years ago and is presumed dead. As Keisha is grieving this, she sees her wife in the background of a news story. And then another. And then another. This spurs an interest in Alice’s private life. Keisha digs through her things and finds continuous reference to a group called Thistle. Bay and Creek. Praxis. What these things are, Keisha has no idea. But she becomes a truck driver and starts to search.

If you take away the horror elements. This is a wonderful story about overcoming anxiety, facing your fears, and learning to live with the mental illness you have, harnessing it as a weapon to be used against your enemies. It’s about how hate manifests itself physically. If you add back the horror elements, you can cut through some of the heavier sides of those conversations with fight sequences and driving montages, and you turn the physical hatred into a literal monster who consumes humans.

This book felt like John Dies at the End grew up. I loved the creatures that were in this world. The sense of political conspiracy that was hiding under the surface the whole time. I felt myself utterly and totally hooked. I loved the oracles and everything they represented, and I loved Keisha as a character, and felt that I could really relate to her. I loved that this story was about her, and I loved watching her grow and change, and stumble and get back up.

I wish that the ending of this book hadn’t felt so rushed. I could have gone on for ages, but it leaves more room in this world for expansion, should the author ever decide to.

-Siobhan