Alice Isn’t Dead
by Joseph Fink
October 30th 2018, Harper Perennial
Goodreads, Amazon, Book Depository, Wordery
Keisha Lewis lived a quiet life with her wife, Alice, until the day that Alice disappeared. After months of searching, presuming she was dead, Keisha held a funeral, mourned, and gradually tried to get on with her life.
But that was before Keisha started to see her wife, again and again, in the background of news reports from all over America.
Alice isn’t dead, and she is showing up at every major tragedy and accident in the country.
Each death leads to smaller, invisible deaths inside the hearts of those left behind.
I will start this review by saying: Alice Isn’t Dead holds up completely as a narrative separate from the podcast, but it helps to have some knowledge of the existentialism and sort of cosmic and conspiracy theory horror that is prevalent in the WTNV and Alice podcasts.
Alice Isn’t Dead has a darkness to it that sets it apart from WTNV. The protagonist, Keisha, is genuinely disturbed by horrifying events, unlike Cecil’s ambivalence. Until the last third of the book, it maintains a dread fuelled horror that is only amplified by Keisha’s anxiety disorder, something I loved about her character. I suffer from anxiety, and I could see a lot of myself in her character. Joseph Fink’s added explanation at the end of how much of Keisha is inspired by his own anxiety was a really nice touch and I appreciate him sharing that part of himself. I love how integral it is to her identity and and development, how she doesn’t overcome anxiety, just lives with it.
As WTNV maintains the bizarre, and glosses over character deaths in an attempt to create a more unsettling tone, Alice bases a lot of its horror, especially in earlier chapters, on explicitly creating comparisons with modern social issues. It overtly addresses corruption of the police and institutionalised racism, how the systems can let down young people, and I love how that real horror is embodied in these supernatural creatures. I know I’m comparing the two a lot, but I think that’s just to establish they are very different entities, and incredible in their own right.
As with most horror I review, I listened to Alice Isn’t Dead as an audiobook. Jasika Nicole, the narrator, is also the voice actress for Keisha in the Podcast, and for that reason, the audiobook is the best way to consume this story, in my opinion. Her voice is honestly perfect for the role. There’s so much emotion behind her narration, a complete understanding of the character, and there were moments where her voicing of slightly more evil-inclined characters forced me to pause the audiobook with how unsettled I felt.
What really drew me into the story was grief. At this specific moment in my life I’m experiencing a very intense loss, and there was a lot of Alice Isn’t Dead I could understand. Sylvia and Keisha both experience intense losses as characters, and smaller ones throughout, of identity and safety, and I really love how that is explored. I love Keisha and Alice’s relationship at the centre of the story, and how there isn’t instantaneous forgiveness. There’s such a solid weight to their existence both in and out of their relationship, and the reflections on how their relationship started from both perspectives show how dangerous assumptions can be.
And if she was going to mean that forgiveness, that meant never cashing in on the guilt.
Throughout, Sylvia was by far my favourite character, but it just felt like she was underutilised. I’m aggravated that Keisha and Sylvia would have such sentimental reunions and then be split apart again two chapters later. In some ways, it felt like she was only there for the end where they could have a plot twist. I love Keisha’s story, but Sylvia’s arc was so much more interesting in some places that I wish more attention was paid to her story that would make the ending for her character more significant.
The narrative was repetitive, too. Keisha meets Sylvia –> they split up –> Keisha is threatened –> she lies low –> somebody dies –> she starts working again –> she sees Sylvia, ad nauseam. I know it’s a long repetition, but every separate part of the story read like this, sometimes multiple times in the part, all the way until the end, and I wish there were more variation.
By the end, it felt very rushed. The pay off for the story felt lacklustre, and I dislike that it was slightly negative, too. I know bittersweet endings are for some people, but I just ended up… drained. The actual fight doesn’t have much oomph, no energy, too quick, and left my dissatisfied.
In spite of my issues, I highly recommend this book. It’s full of carefully crafted dread, great characters and carefully explored relationships, especially the sapphic relationship at its core.
Content Warning: Graphic depictions of violence; body horror, descriptions of dead and decaying bodies; grief and loss; descriptions of anxiety disorders and spiralling thoughts
If you liked this review, you might like:
🍎Review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
🍎Review: Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
🍎Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
If you liked this post, consider buying me a coffee? Ko-Fi.