Reviewed by Clifford Jongko
ALICE ISN’T DEAD
By Joseph Fink
336 pages. Harper Perennial.
A road trip. A search for a presumed-dead wife. A world with lurking Lovecraftian horrors and secret organizations.
Similar to author Joseph Fink’s first two novels, Alice Isn’t Dead is based on the 2016 podcast of the same name, told in the first person as a series of fragmented narratives. The novel expands on the story: truck driver Keisha Taylor, has just found out that her wife – the titular Alice – is indeed alive, after being presumed dead for a long time. Keisha’s search takes her back and forth across America, looking for clues, deciphering cryptic messages…later finding out that this is more than just a missing-person search.
Early in the novel, we are introduced to one of the Thistle Men. They smell faintly like rot, their faces don’t look right, and they feel like they’d be at home in an H.P. Lovecraft story. But more importantly, they’re malevolent, they’re everywhere, and they’re part of a conspiracy that Keisha – and the allies that aid her on her search – must now uncover. A conspiracy that may have something to do with Alice’s disappearance.
The premise of Alice Isn’t Dead is reminiscent of vintage H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King. Someplace as mundane as a truck stop diner can turn into a truly horrifying place once a Thistle Man makes its presence known. It’s not the teeth, or the sagging skin, or the way they bite into their victims. No; it’s the fear and anxiety in thinking that one of them may just be at the next turn, waiting for some unwitting victim.
If you have been following the Alice Isn’t Dead podcast, then you simply must read the novel. One isn’t an adaptation of the other, but think of them as companion volumes. The novel references Keisha’s first-person narration, as told in the podcast, as her habit of speaking to an unseen – perhaps nonexistent – audience on her truck’s CB radio. The novel fills in holes and provides an omniscient point of view to the world that the podcast established.
Alice Isn’t Dead is a well-paced novel, and I found myself spending more time reading it just to see what happens next. There are questions in the end that are perhaps best left to a future installment, should the author decide to write a sequel. But for now, I’m satisfied in finding out why the chicken crossed the road. And that in this world, there is no such things as a Thistle Man waiting at the next highway stop.
Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online.
Clifford is a freelance content writer and musician who is fueled by caffeine, graphic novels, and bad puns. Follow his graphic novel-centric page/podcast @thoseF_ingnerds on Twitter. Follow his personal Twitter and Instagram account @tapsilogic at your own risk.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]