Friday, January 2, 2015

Wolf In White Van by John Darnielle

The first novel by the lead singer of the band The Mountain Goats is a strange and wonderful thing.  Clocking in at a scant 207 pages, Darnielle takes us into the mind of a man who, years earlier, had attempted to commit suicide.  The novel moves in reverse and we learn much about Sean Philips the young man from his reflections as an adult.  As teenage Sean lays recovering in the hospital, the idea for a role-playing game begins to take shape in his head.  In the game, Trace Italian, players must choose based on provided “moves” how best to attempt to make it through a post-apocalyptic world into the safety of the Trace fortress itself.  Players mail in their “moves” or decisions and Sean mails back their next options.  His relationships with the players is professional but a few become heavily invested in the game.  Sean gets to know two teen players, Lance and Carrie who play Trace Italian as a team.  Tragedy strikes and somehow Sean has charges brought against him. Sean has never met the players in person, so how can he be responsible for anything that happened to them?  The result is a book that winds in and out and back upon itself as bits of Sean’s teenage self are glimpsed in these new teens. 

Darnielle is a great writer.  Reading a novel told by an unreliable narrator can often be a frustrating task, but Darnielle makes it quite enjoyable.  This is a book that has many layers and since it is short, can easily be read again for more nuance and texture.

Check out a copy of John Darnielle’s Wolf In White Van from the library today!