A female big-rig driver crisscrosses America searching for signs of the wife everyone else thinks is dead in "Alice Isn't Dead" by Joseph Fink.
This spooky third novel by "Welcome to Night Vale" creator Fink is similarly based on an original podcast and offers a more threatening but equally personal take on the horror genre. Switching from the podcast’s intimate first-person narration, delivered with powerful emotion by actress Jasika Nicole, allows Fink to stretch out into the more remote corners of his mythos while delivering the same scary beats. The main character is Keisha Taylor, whose wife, Alice, disappeared while working for the mysterious Bay and Creek trucking company: “No cause of death. No body. No certainty. There was a disappearance, and after a long and increasingly hopeless search, the presumption of death.” Now Keisha has taken a job with the company as a long-haul driver, which thrusts her firmly into the eerie mythology at work here. Keisha is a fascinating character partially because one of her defining characteristics is chronic anxiety, and it’s a potent imperfection for a character who battles literal monsters on a regular basis. Along the way, Fink unveils the strange universe that swallowed Alice whole, revealing an underground war between two secret societies, time-bending oracles and other Lovecraftian horrors. He also gives Keisha a charismatic ally in Sylvia Parker, a teen on the run who becomes her “anxiety bro,” and a bloodcurdling enemy in the macabre, twisted police officer who stalks her across the span of the country. But the book also tempers its terrors with everyday humanity, portraying the mundane joys of love, the rich fabric of the American countryside and surreal “Why did the chicken cross the road?” jokes that are a hallmark of the podcast. By the time Keisha learns Alice's fate, readers will realize that this marvelous character is more than the sum of her faceless anxiety or her very real fears.
"Alice" is a terrifying new storytelling experience that affirms, even in our darkest moments, that love conquers all.
(Fink will speak in conversation with Deb Olin Unferth and sign copies of his book starting at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at BookPeople. Free to attend; only books purchased at BookPeople are eligible for signing. Information: bookpeople.com.)
A fictionalized history of Madame Tussaud
Edward Carey's historical novel "Little" explores Revolutionary Paris through the fictionalized eyes of the orphan who grew up to become Madame Tussaud.
Born in a little Alsatian village in 1761, Anne Marie Grosholtz — called Marie — inherits her mother’s large Roman nose, her father’s large, upturned chin, and little else. Marie’s widowed mother dies soon after taking a job as housekeeper to Doctor Curtius, a physician who makes wax models of organs and body parts. Little Marie moves to Paris with Curtius, where he opens a wax museum and trains her as his assistant. There, they sculpt first the heads of philosophers, then famous murderers, and eventually victims of the guillotine. (Those make for much more portable models, being detached from their bodies.) Marie’s fortunes rise and fall with the politics of the era: She becomes an art tutor to Louis XVI’s sister Elisabeth, then spends a stint in the Carmes Prison (where she shares a cell with the future Josephine Bonaparte). Carey channels the ghosts of Charles Dickens, Henry Fielding and the Brothers Grimm to tell Marie’s tale, populating it with grotesques and horrors worthy of Madame Tussaud’s celebrated wax museum. Little drawings punctuate the text, like Boz’s cartoons in Dickens’ books; Carey’s rumination on wax recalls Dickens’ on dust. In Carey’s hands, life blurs with death, nature with artifice; his objects seem as animated as people while his people can appear as fragile and impotent as objects. Dolls, houses, carts, furniture, tailors’ dummies, and, of course, waxworks have human feelings: “I had never before considered that carriage clocks could be disapproving, nor had I supposed a candelabra might resent lighting me. I had never stepped upon a carpet that did not wish me there, nor felt the enmity of a marble mantelpiece. Nor had I come upon a gold-braided stool whose fat little feet seemed aimed at my ankles. Not before I entered this room.” Curtius “seemed made of rods, of broom handles, of great lengths.” This artful anthropomorphism (and its opposite) perfectly suits a novel about that most lifelike medium of sculpture, wax — and its most famous modeler.
"Little" is a quirky, compelling story that deepens into a meditation on mortality and art.