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Wolf in White Van is one of the more intriguing books I’ve read recently, but it certainly caters to a specific audience. In short, if you are into music and gaming, it will appeal to you much more, I think.
Sean is a disfigured man who makes a living on play-by-mail games – where he sends players information about their quest, location, and character, and they make “plays” by writing him back. In fact, he has file cabinets full of the descriptions to accompany almost any possible move the players make within the game. His most popular game is Trace Italian, the quest to find the thriving post-apocalyptic dwelling in rural Kansas.
Sean’s role as “gamemaster” allows him to concoct and keep up with fantasy scenarios – and the lives of people scattered throughout the country – that his disfigurement has prevented him from knowing. Throughout the story, Sean relays bits about the game and the people who play it – enough to make the thought of a real Trace Italian quite interesting.
But the story is about much more than gaming. As Sean conveys information about his life, his games, and a few mysterious events from his life, we learn more and more about his condition and about him. Darnielle’s debut novel (he is more well known as the force behind the band The Mountain Goats) reveals itself to be a short but poetic puzzle, one that is revealed slowly over the course of the book and keeps you wondering even after the end.
Whether or not you find the ending satisfying will depend on your approach to stories in general. There is not a neat bow on this one, and you will definitely have unanswered questions. However, there is no doubt that Darnielle’s prose has some moments of very keen, even lyrical, observation one might expect from a songwriter. And I came away hoping for the chance to read more from him in the future.