Alice Isn’t Dead

photo of author and book cover

Reviewed by Olive Dausinas

The autumn brings with it a haunting chill that seemingly only lasts through October. Often in university, I would find myself driving along the long stretches of backroads through the country on my way home. Empty cornfields with what felt like empty houses sitting within them made for unbearably silent loneliness. The company that I did have was podcasts. Serialized stories playing through the speakers like a radio from days long lost. Alice Isn’t Dead was one of those podcasts. To my surprise, the three-season long podcast had been novelized as well by its creator Joseph Fink. It was a story I had never finished previously, and as October approached, I decided to once more open the door to this story and see what lies ahead.

Stories of the grieving widow have been around for so long that they sometimes meld together. Keisha Taylor lost her wife Alice years ago. The monstrous grief that hangs over her head, threatening to take a bite out of her and end her life, never seems to go away no matter how much she attempts to talk about it. However, this all changes once Keisha sees Alice again. And then she sees her once more. And again. And again. Always in the background of the crowd on the news stations of random tragic accidents around the country. Within her wife’s documents is the name of a shipping company, whom Keisha is hired to be a truck driver for. Stalked by a monstrous serial killer she calls the Thistle Man, she has to wonder if all of this is worth it in pursuit of her home, Alice.

This novel explores grief in its most natural sense, in the loss of the person you love deepest. Your spouse is your best friend, the person who completes the missing half. That loss can drive deep into one, as Joseph Fink manages to properly show throughout the novel. Keisha is driven so deeply into grief and loss that the possibility of Alice still being alive leads her down a deeply dangerous path, one that immediately places her in harm’s way. What do we do for love and our search to recover what was lost? Fink captures that desperation perfectly through Keisha’s actions. The idea that she has nothing left to lose, with nothing to stop her from attempting to reach her goal.

Joseph Fink’s most famous works tend to be driven in by horror or supernatural stories, his most well-known being that of Welcome to Night Vale, which is in serialized podcast form and several novels taking place within the world he has helped construct. Most familiar, however, are the stories from famous author Stephen King. The sometimes quiet chapters, broken by a foreboding sense of dread, are very familiar to King’s works. The undeniable quiet terror one feels when reading Alice Isn’t Dead is similar to the feeling found within King’s stories.

From a literary aspect of the book, Alice Isn’t Dead has both its enormous pros and some annoying cons to it. As with any story similar to this, the author needs to succeed in making the reader feel Keisha’s grief and fear as she journeys the country. And he does so successfully. When Keisha speaks about Alice in monologue or flashback, there is an aura of nothing but depression in it. The same goes for when she encounters something horrifying, which is solidified early on during her encounters with the monstrous Thistle Man, whose grotesque description can have one wondering how this creature actually might appear. Unfortunately, there is one issue that did stick out to me. The pacing in the story can often seem uneven. Some chapters can feel fully fleshed out, while others seemingly end at a full stop. Despite that, the pacing is relatively consistent enough that it does not cause too much of an issue, but it is one that is noticeable. 

This type of story is one I recommend wholly, but perhaps steer clear if some of the topics hit too close to home. Those who have listened to the podcast of the same name will most likely be interested in this novelization, adding a new layer of depth to the surroundings of the story. Likewise, after having read this, I am inclined to return to the world of the podcast once more and compare the changes that had to be made in adapting such a story into a single novel. To anyone who enjoys stories with themes of horror and grief or with conspiracies that have to be unraveled, you will enjoy Alice Isn’t Dead.

I closed the book on a story I never expected to finish. In the cool autumn breeze, however, I can feel that sense of dread upon me still as I think. Every chapter has that sense of dread, without closure, drawing the reader back in just once more to find a place to end.

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