A DISTURBING AMERICAN PURSUIT
Dark drama ‘Alice Isn’t Dead’ will change the way you think about omelettes
As fiction podcasts go, Alice Isn’t Dead is extremely unusual. This tense production from Nightvale Presents makes excellent use of the medium. Jasika Nicole portrays Keisha, the narrator – a truck driver who is driving across the US, delivery to delivery, looking for her missing wife, Alice. We listen to her speak into the truck radio, partially musing to herself, partially addressing Alice as though she is leaving her a voicemail describing her travels and the bleakness of the road ahead – and worse, the potential of what follows her. It is a horror, a psychological thriller and a mystery, told in short, sharp chapters.
This first episode is brief and tense: Keisha stops at a roadside diner and encounters an unsettling man eating an omelette. If you’re not predisposed towards egg-focused breakfasts, there are moments here that may be particularly unwholesome – but Joseph Fink, who writes Welcome to Nightvale with Jeffrey Cranor, is at his best when gently subverting things that should be ordinary and turning them sour and frightening. This encounter at a diner unfolds sharply into a pursuit – but not just a morbidly predictable creep-following-awoman-alone pursuit.
This is masterful, unsettling storytelling, where the listener gets a letterbox-sized insight into a bigger, darker world than can be contained in a 20-minute episode.
While extremely literary, the second-person format of the narration (Keisha is talking to Alice but to the listener, too) makes this a very intimate experience. Sometimes the radio blips out mid-sentence, a stylistic choice that amps up the tension and whips information out from under us at the last second. The world we move through is one of desolate highways, as Keisha hauls a truck full of small deodorant bottles across the country – this is a blue-collar noir.
Her first interaction with the omelette man – or the Thistle Man, as she comes to call him, is grotesque, but her second becomes more tense and invasive until it culminates in a shocking scene that more than implies he is not quite human. The structure of the episode leads from altercation to Keisha’s oddly calm missives to Alice – internal to external worlds handled beautifully. She is a protagonist you want to follow into the dark, as she seeks the mysterious Alice.
It is no surprise that the novelisation of Alice Isn’t Dead is due to be released this October, and that it also is in development for television. A dark listen for the brighter evenings, this is a shocking drama with a huge heart thundering under poetic and surprising writing.