A DIS­TURB­ING AMER­I­CAN PUR­SUIT

Dark drama ‘Alice Isn’t Dead’ will change the way you think about omelettes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - AUDIO REVIEWS - SARAH MARIA GRIF­FIN

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.

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