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Alice Isn't Dead

Review

Alice Isn't Dead

The monsters that humans fear the most are the ones they try their best not to see. They’re creatures that live in the back of our minds. They devour us from the inside out. We push these fears --- these beings --- out of our consciousness until we no longer can. In that moment we face the monster head on. Joseph Fink’s new novel, ALICE ISN’T DEAD, focuses on the monsters we face every day and those we choose not to.

Keisha’s wife, Alice, often spent time away from home for work, but after she went missing for weeks without a trace, she was presumed dead. Keisha mourns Alice’s death until she notices a bizarre phenomenon on the television. While reporters all over the country are covering brutal murders and odd occurrences, Alice is standing in the background, staring directly into the camera.

When she realizes that Alice is not dead, Keisha decides to go looking for her. She takes a truck-driving job at Bay and Creek. As a driver, she is able to travel the abandoned roads of the United States and the sprawling, sparsely populated spaces where these strange killings are taking place --- the empty spaces that Alice seems to roam.

"While focusing on monsters and occult forces, ALICE ISN’T DEAD remains incredibly grounded by its authenticity.... It is filled with surprises and is frighteningly relevant."

In her travels, she is stalked by a group of men --- although they aren’t quite men. They have sagging fatty skin, a mildewy smell, and yellowing nails and eyes. Each of them wears a shirt that says “Thistle.” They deliver Keisha grim warnings --- some are verbal, others demonstrative. They kill people in her sight just to toy with her, to make her more fearful. “Go home,” they say. “Don’t look into things that don’t concern you.”

Going home is not an option for Keisha. As she states, “Home is not a place. Home is a person.” All the fear that the Thistle men strike into her cannot deter her. It propels her forward in her goal to find Alice and discover the truth.

Keisha is not a typical action hero. She suffers severe anxiety. Mental illness is itself a monster that lives inside her head. While she is facing monsters on the outside, her own mind devours her from the inside. Anxiety becomes a tool for her, as she realizes that it is an immense amount of untapped raw energy. Rather than being paralyzed by fear, Keisha lets it take over her body and launch her into action. What was once disabling becomes her superpower.

While focusing on monsters and occult forces, ALICE ISN’T DEAD remains incredibly grounded by its authenticity. The first page says, “This isn’t a story. It’s a road trip.” Keisha’s honest and vivid descriptions of the United States’ most abandoned roads and unfrequented rest stops contribute a sense of mundanity. These locations open the space for introspection and reflection on the US. Her wandering thoughts paired with Fink’s sweeping prose add a simple element of beauty to this chilling novel.

The fear Keisha experiences is another authentic force to the story. As Fink himself suffers with anxiety, he infuses his personal experiences into the character. Keisha’s fear is one that breathes. It is integral to her identity, but takes on a character of its own. The reader can feel it and track its strength. The real fear Fink brings to his work becomes the heartbeat of the book.

Love is the strongest grounding element for Keisha and the novel itself. Alice and Keisha are desperately in love. Through flashbacks, Fink illustrates how, over time, their love grew into the life they share together. When Alice is missing, Keisha loses more than a spouse --- she loses everything she knows her life to be. This love becomes a drive stronger than fear and fate combined.

This isn’t a story. It’s a road trip filled with adventures and new experiences that prompt reflection on the space we have traveled. In addition to being a merit-worthy horror novel, it is a lesson on social responsibility and allyship. It is filled with surprises and is frighteningly relevant. Fink shows us that the monsters of our world are the ones that we know exist and we choose not to fight.

On top of all of that, there is an answer inside for anyone who has ever asked the age-old question “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

Reviewed by Julianne Holmquist on November 9, 2018

Alice Isn't Dead
by Joseph Fink

  • Publication Date: October 30, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Horror, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 006284413X
  • ISBN-13: 9780062844132