book review: Wolf in White Van

wolf in white van

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux [September 2014]. Fiction. Hardcover. 208 pages.

RATING: ****/5

“For reasons that seem obvious to me, I don’t believe in happy endings or even in endings at all, but I am as susceptible to moments of indulgent fantasy as anybody else.”

Author info: debut novel from The Mountain Goat’s lead singer/songwriter. He lives in Durham, NC.

Summary: Isolated from a disfiguring accident in high school [“Reconstructed skin is very sensitive to temperature and moisture; and then the heat would slacken the resewn flaps of my cheeks a little, and the tingling would start up, a rippling alarm traveling down confused wires.”], Sean Phillips creates an imaginary world for others. It’s his way to cope and to connect as best he can with others on society’s fringe. He established a text-based, role-playing game called Trace Italian with players complete through the mail. This started prior to consistent internet and email correspondence and usage. Sean never fit in but had some close friends. He played strange games and didn’t fit in with the popular crowds in high school. Something to which many can relate. Think about it now. About 10% of people were truly popular and comfortable in high school. Darnielle writes: “I told him the truth: that I didn’t know; that I didn’t know anymore if I wanted to be more normal or not.” Two high school players attempt to take the game into reality and dangerous outcomes ensue.

Looking at the tragic with humor: “Xanax, certifiably the medication that cam e from space, traed tot eh architects of our shadow government in exchange for a full map of human DNA, the eventual future costs of this trade arrangement unspoken but plain as day to everybody involved, a rash of suicides and disappearances cropping up when the uselessness of the medicine for anything beyond mild sedation was revealed.”

Fun fact: The title refers to album backtracking. Back in the 70s religious people thought Satan sent messages through music that could be heard when a record played backward. “apparently bands started encoding Satanic messages into their songs by recording their music backwards, and teenagers were being won over for Satan through the process.”

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


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