Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
~reviewed by Steve(n)
The labyrinth of human consciousness can lead to any number of epiphanies or disasters, miracles or cataclysms. Some writers work within a comfortable, logical framework to produce their masterpieces. John Darnielle, in defiance of convention, follows the infinite regress of the imagination through every conceivable iteration of chance and circumstance. What he discovers lying bare and vulnerable in the mental abyss, he cultivates into a lyrically feral investigation of the unknowability of the self and the senselessness of impulse. Wolf in White Van distills the terror of youth and celebrates the freedom that this powerlessness brings. With restrained flourish, this poetic novella captures the shocking beauty of desperation and the infinite potential of the mundane.
Darnielle explores the savage possibility of every moment by constructing a world, whose residents are primal, irresponsible, kind, and forgiving in equal measure. Their choices unfold universes of wonder and sorrow, and the consequences of consequences of consequences of their actions ricochet off each other endlessly toward a mysterious inevitability. These authentically human characters revel in their own influence while lamenting their inability to escape the expectations of others. Wolf in White Van is a story of drastic measures and desperation.
Beginning in a daze, Wolf in White Van spirals outward from the aftermath some horrific event, defining the monotony of inertia and helplessness. There has been an accident, and Sean Phillips is left catastrophically disfigured. Unable to affect his environment, he rebuilds himself by imagining a fantasy world, which becomes exponentially more complex as Sean prepares for a life of outpatient care and perpetual dependency. By the time he can live with minimal outside assistance, his imaginary empire has been launched as a marginally successful text-only, mail-in, role-playing game. Welcome to the Trace Italian!
His subscription-based business would be a pure redemption story were it not for the second, greater tragedy that befalls the players within the game.
John Darnielle is primarily known as the songwriter and sole mainstay of the indie rock phenomenon The Mountain Goats, and he has been lauded by The New Yorker as “America’s best non-hip hop lyricist”. His fourteen full-length albums and dozens of mixtapes, cassettes, and EPs are filled with tiny, heart-wrenching character studies that hint at hope through the black storm of mistakes, persecution, and doubt that crashes around individual lives. He is the author of an entry in the 33⅓ series of books Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, which is secretly an expansion of the song “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” off of the record All Hail West Texas. Darnielle’s literary credentials also include the monthly column “The South Pole Dispatch” in the back pages of Decibel magazine, which may make him the most metal author appearing at BookPeople this year.
Join us on Monday October 6th at 7:00 p.m. at BookPeople, where John Darnielle will be reading and signing copies of the extraordinary Wolf in White Van, which was described by Daniel Handler as, “Quiet, mysterious, menacing, taking you places you will never, never get out of your head.” The speaking portion of this event is free and open to the public, but, in order to enter the signing line, a copy of Wolf in White Van must be purchased from BookPeople. There is no excuse to miss this electrifying event, so come experience this indescribable sensation. It’ll put color in your cheeks.