Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Welcome to Trace Italian, a game of strategy and survival! You may now make your first move. Isolated by a disfiguring injury since the age of seventeen, Sean Phillips crafts imaginary worlds for strangers to play in. From his small apartment in southern California, he orchestrates fantastic adventures where possibilities, both dark and bright, open in the boundaries between the real and the imagined. As the creator of Trace Italian—a text-based, role-playing game played through the mail—Sean guides players from around the world through his intricately imagined terrain, which they navigate and explore, turn by turn, seeking sanctuary in a ravaged, savage future America.
Lance and Carrie are high school students from Florida, explorers of the Trace. But when they take their play into the real world, disaster strikes, and Sean is called to account for it. In the process, he is pulled back through time, tunneling toward the moment of his own self-inflicted departure from the world in which most people live.”
I’m not sure what to think about this book, much less what to say about it. It’s not a novel that you like or dislike; rather, it’s a novel that either affects you or doesn’t. I can see where some people would find themselves having no connection at all to the story and to the main character, but I know that others will. I’m one of those who felt the connection, and that made it into a disturbing read.
I saw another reviewer describe this book as being about the way we consume pop culture and how it consumes us in return. That’s true, but I think there’s more to it than that. I think it’s also about the isolation we have in our lives, and how it can be self-imposed, and how we deal with it–or in this case, don’t. What makes it disturbing is that I’m sure many of us who consume sci-fi and fantasy novels/movies/TV shows have had moments where we allow ourselves to sink deeply into the story as a means of escapism. As such, we experience discomfort at reading about a character who went too deep.
This isn’t a book where you should expect to get all the answers you want. In real life, things happen for no real discernible reason. Its frustrating, and it’s not what we expect in fiction, because the rules of fiction dictate that we should know the “why” of things. But maybe there are subjects where that’s impossible, even in fiction. The depths of the human psyche are a pretty strong candidate for that level of mystery.
No matter what, I’d recommend this novel, if only because it is likely to disturb you. I think everyone needs a bit of disturbance in their mental space once in a while. It’s how we get prompted to examine our ideas and see them afresh.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Page Count: 224
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Acquired: Borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis branch
Read an excerpt