The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home, Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor; Mara Wilson, narrator (HarperAudio 978-0-06295660-6, $26.99, digital download, 9.25 hr., unabridged) March 2020.
The third in the companion novel series to the podcast Welcome to Night Vale is a memoir of sorts from one of the most iconic characters in the show, the titular strange being who simultaneously occupies everyone’s house in a mysterious desert town. The book is narrated by the actor who performs her on the podcast, writer and former child actor Mara Wilson. The voice of the Faceless Old Woman has always been dryly humorous, almost clinical, as she recounts the peculiar and often sadistic pranks that she plays upon the citizens of Night Vale. I’ve always thought that tone suggested both a morality alien to our own and a lid concealing a seething cauldron of emotion. In this book, she blows the lid off that cauldron and explains how she developed that alien morality. Never telling us her name, she nevertheless reveals a great deal of information about her past, beginning with a childhood growing up in a manor house on the Mediterranean coast during the late 18th and early 19th century, raised by her smuggler father after her noblewoman mother died at her birth. She is barely grown when her home is burned to the ground and her father murdered, seemingly at the behest of the enigmatic organization known as the Order of the Labyrinth. In response, she sets off on a shakily complex quest for revenge that leads her to the captaincy of a pirate ship, among other adventures; it is a dark and bitter path which ultimately consumes all opportunities for happiness, her relationships, her mortality, and even the ability of others to perceive her face. The story is intercut with nearly present-day interludes in Night Vale, as she interferes in the life of a young man named Craig, manipulating him to maturity, greater focus and ambition, and marriage to a lovely and accomplished woman who gives him two children. Naturally, these two threads inevitably dovetail with a terrible and tragic purpose.
I found this to be the most cohesive of the three Night Vale novels, and I have always enjoyed Wilson’s portrayal of this frightening and previously almost entirely opaque character. Her evocation of the nameless and faceless protagonist’s frustration and fury is particularly effective, as well as her expression of the character’s apparent (but unlikely) confusion at Craig’s ingratitude for the creepy methods she employs to “help” him get on in life. However, this book still hasn’t changed my mind that the best and most creative Night Vale stories are still being told in the original podcast.
This review and more like it in the January 2021 issue of Locus.
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