- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (Sept. 23 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1443437387
- ISBN-13: 978-1443437387
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.4 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 249 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #107,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Wolf In White Van Paperback – Deckle Edge, Sep 23 2014
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A stunning meditation on the power of escape, and on the cat-and-mouse contest the self plays to deflect its own guilt. (New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice))
[A] strange and involving novel . . . about alienation and despair and the search for meaning. . . . What drives Wolf in White Van is Mr. Darnielle’s uncanny sense of what it’s like to feel marginalized, an outsider, a freak. (New York Times)
The prose is spare yet fervent, both distant and rawly exposed, making for an eerie, awkward and compelling novel that immediately demands a second read. (The Guardian)
A quietly devastating book that’s not easily forgotten. (Winnipeg Free Press)
In Darnielle’s novel, as in his songs, the monstrously true and unbelievably beautiful press up against one another. Together, they begin to dance. (NPR)
The next logical step for someone who’s filled 14 studio albums, 23 EPs, and four compilations with relatable characters, dramatic situations, and recognizably literary themes like spirituality, drug addiction, and more. . . . Wolf in White Van is the work of a real writer. (Pitchfork)
An electric debut novel with the sweetest ruminations on Conan the Barbarian ever written. (O Magazine)
[Wolf in White Van] will back you onto your heels with its capacity for inventiveness in structure, story, and line-writing. (GQ)
Sean’s life of minutiae, from simple charcoal drawings hung on the wall to terrible, Conan-inspired cassette tapes, makes his character come to animated, imperfectly perfect life. This attention to detail, this humanity, makes the book a joy. (Paste)
The prose is often cryptic and then stunningly clear, microscopically specific and then audaciously grand. The words soothe for sentences at a time, then strike with blunt force. (Slate)
About the Author
JOHN DARNIELLE’s first novel, Wolf in White Van, was a New York Times bestseller, a National Book Award nominee and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for first fiction, and was widely hailed as one of the best novels of the year. He is the writer, composer, guitarist and vocalist for the band the Mountain Goats. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife and sons.
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Wolf in White Van begins with a memory, made up of many memories, of the protagonist's father carrying him up the stairs in the aftermath of a terrible incident. We know from the get-go that something terrible is coming, and it short order, we learn that book is driving us closer to that event.
The formatting can be a bit off-putting. Darnielle writes in long, lyrical sentences, in a style which fans of his music will recognize immediately, but it is somewhat stream-of-consciousness. The narrative meanders around events in a way that will drive some readers absolutely crazy, but which seems (to me) to be skillfully employed stream of consciousness. If that's not your literary bag, and you don't love Darnielle's lyrical style already, you may want to avoid this book.
The story is about Sean, a man who makes a living writing and running by-mail role playing games. A player sends him envelopes and subscription fees, and he sends them a scene to play out. They send him their move, and he sends them the next scene, which explains how their move played out and what their new situation is.
Sean has been disfigured by a particular incident which I won't disclose here, and the book spends much of its time slowly revealing the nature of his injuries and the life he leads as a result. We learn about how he started writing his first, favorite, and most profitable game, Trace Italian. These flashbacks run parallel to his present life, and an incident involving the game.
Sean's life in the book revolves around running Trace Italian (and similar games), a world crafted entirely by Sean in single-page scenarios where every action and outcome has a distinct cause. In the game, he can trace every player's situation to actions they've taken and, to a point, predict which actions they will take next, all based on a deceptively simple cause-and-effect system. The situation involving his game, however, seems to defy this cause-and-effect system to some extent.
His flashbacks, however, seem to be circling the puzzle of this terrible event which has shaped his life.
Vague spoilers begin here (I'm going out of my way to avoid explicitly stating anything), so be warned.
The real beauty of the book, to my mind, is the way it gradually and unobtrusively weaves this cause-and-effect worldview into the book. By the end, we are fully expecting to learn the reason that Sean did what he did, but we're also being told slowly throughout the second half of the book that there isn't one -- or at least, not one that he can remember.
And this brings me back to my theory. At the end of the day, this book left me with a familiar and unpleasant sensation which I instantly (and uncomfortably) recognized.
It's the dark feeling which, when you stand in some high place and look back at the ground, urges you jump. It's a powerful feeling, almost spell-like, and as it passes, you try to justify it -- but you can't.
My theory, completely unfounded though it may be, is that the people who don't understand this book haven't felt that, or perhaps haven't acknowledged it.
If you have, though, you will find that this book evokes that feeling in a less-frightening way. It's beautifully and skillfully written, but it hurts. The revelation that Sean's life was going in a good direction, but that maybe he was just damaged enough to do something horrible for no reason at all, feels true.
This book is absolutely worth the read, for the lyricism of the writing if nothing else. But it tells essentially a singular story in a fractured way, and that can be frustrating-- though ultimately I felt rewarded for having read it.
The story sort of starts in the middle, going forward through a court trial that Sean is involved in, and alternates between this current time and the past, before and after his injury. The story is made up entirely of Sean's memories, skipping around from various points in his life. The story of Sean's memories has two themes, the court trial and what led up to it, and the injury and what led up to that.
As the story unfolds, you are trying to determine what led up to these dual issues. The book gives small clues throughout and builds on this.
I like stories with unusual heroes, and stories with multiple threads that intertwine. This book was very well written—the author is a composer and music/lyric writer, and this is evident in the prose—the word “lyrical” came to mind even before I knew the author wrote lyrics. I enjoyed the book while I was reading it. I like books that build up to a climax.
However, I like my books to actually HAVE that climax, to have a solidly satisfying conclusion. This book seemed to promise to reveal the mystery of Sean's injury, and the details and ending of the court trial, and...nothing. I get it that the author wanted to leave it mysterious and we are supposed to come up with something (and maybe each person decides on an ending that is different because we are all different). And maybe the answer is, There IS no answer. But for me personally, I just like to my books to have the answer at the end, so I was disappointed. Just an unsatisfying ending, and so neither theme felt complete. It was almost like the last chapter was missing!