Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink

My favorite kind of horror goes beyond jump scares, gore, and preying on common phobias. More than many genres, horror relies on creating an immersive atmosphere. Compelling horror builds a sense of quiet unease, which we hopefully get to experience through empathetic, human characters. It has something to say and a purpose beyond simply trying to scare.

Alice Isn’t Dead is exactly the type of horror I look for. It’s also the first Night Vale Presents audio drama I’ve listened to. I know… I’m late to the party.

Similar to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Joseph Fink has created a modern day odyssey in the form of road trips across the unknown parts of America. Keisha suffers from constant anxiety and believes her wife to be dead, only to see her on the news at the fringes of a disaster. Amazed to find that Alice isn’t actually dead, Keisha becomes a truck driver for Bay & Creek Shipping. It’s the same company Alice used to work for and it offers Keisha a way to travel the country while she searches for her wife.

While spending endless hours on the road, Keisha broadcasts radio transmissions, in part as a means of reaching out to Alice and also just to pass the time (and this serves as the story’s framing device). Travel is a prominent theme in Alice Isn’t Dead, especially the emphasis on the journey itself and the loneliness that comes from being away from home.

Along the way, Keisha discovers that there are two opposing factions locked in a war that’s invisible to most of America. There are creepy supernatural forces at work, bordering on the eldritch horror variety, and they like to hang out in rundown diners and lonely gas stations. There’s a dreamlike quality to some of the monsters, feeling more like a vivid nightmare than a waking experience.

One thing I really appreciated about the story was that Keisha starts and ends as an anxiety-ridden character. She doesn’t have to struggle to overcome anxiety, she simply lives with it. Fink has said that was one of the key elements he wanted to convey, as it mirrors his own experience with anxiety.

Though it’s always present, the story proves to be rich in allegory by the end. There are many biting criticisms of modern American society, some more subtle than others.

Turn toward the terror and choose to witness it. Because if we don’t look at what’s bad about our world, how will we ever fix it?

In addition to expressing frustration with how people willingly choose not to see injustice in the world, Alice Isn’t Dead goes further and condemns society for not taking action.

The world had been broken open but life was going on as if it hadn’t.

There’s an almost lyrical nature to the prose. Alice reflects on travel, society, and human nature during her long truck drives, and these ruminations are as important to the story as the actual plot. As Keisha discovers, freedom can be dangerous, some of the most horrifying things in the world hide in plain sight, and not all monsters are inhuman.

It is easy to think of bad men as not human. They are animals, we say. They are monsters, we say. Comforting lies. If those who commit atrocities are an entirely different species than humans, then you could never be complicit. These impulses could not exist within you. But they do. The bad is as human as the good.

Much like Keisha’s physical journey, Alice Isn’t Dead meanders its way through a plot that’s secondary to its message and delivery. It’s more eerily creepy than truly horrifying, though there are plenty of graphic scenes not for the faint of heart. If a thematic, slow-build horror sounds interesting, then this audio drama will likely be a highly enjoyable experience.

Alice Isn’t Dead is a free horror audio drama from Joseph Fink, one of the creators behind Welcome to Night Vale. This audio drama is available through iTunes or wherever you find podcasts. Check out its website for more information or listen to the trailer right now:

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