Wolf in White Van
By John Darnielle (Also Narrator)
Unabridged: 5 Hr 22 Minutes
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Audible ASIN: B00MEOZ5KU
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 17, 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, roleplaying 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.
Brilliantly constructed, Wolf in White Van unfolds in reverse until we arrive at both the beginning and the climax: the event that has shaped so much of Sean’s life. Beautifully written and unexpectedly moving, John Darnielle’s audacious and gripping debut novel is a marvel of storytelling brio and genuine literary delicacy.
This title has been on my book “radar” for some time. As someone who has explored the various aspects of gaming and loves to read, I was admittedly interested in the concept of a story that involves a text-based role-playing game. And it just so happens, it met the requirements for a challenge prompt. So I quickly worked it into the line-up this month.
The prompt: A book with an animal in the title.
The Rundown: Wolf in White Van follows the events surrounding Sean, after a disfiguring accident has left him isolated. In the wake of said events, he creates an imaginary world within a text- based role-playing game, Trace Italian. Through the development of this game which is played via the mail, Sean guides players on an adventure through an imaginary landscape. However, when two young individuals are met with unfortunate outcomes after deciding to take the game into the real world, Sean finds himself on the stand and called into question.
The Characters: Really there is only one at the center of this story, Sean. He is viable but nothing extraordinary. I was a bit disappointed in the lack of emotion he conveys as someone who has been through and is now facing another large hurdle in life. I did not dislike him, but I failed to develop any true connection with him. There was no real growth or evolution occurring. The supporting characters were limited, but this was understandable. The story is about a young man who has been shut off from the world after a terrible accident. It made sense that there were not many individuals who really stood out in the story.
Execution & Story: In terms of originality, I am offering a few bonus points here. The attempt to incorporate Trace Italian into the narration delivers something a bit different for readers. And maybe for some, will even establish the connection I failed to. However, the sequence of events felt disjointed and often interrupted. The pacing was oddly slow and the overall effect dry and monotone. A lot has and was happening for there to be so little tension or excitement. The story did not feel like it ever progressed.
Writing & Narration: I always enjoy when an author chooses to narrate their own audiobooks. I find a strange satisfaction in knowing the voice accompanying the story is the creator. It was no different in this case. But again, the pacing is painfully slow and there is never any moment of anticipation or urgency. I did not really struggle with this as audio, but cannot help but wonder how it translates on to paper. I would imagine much like someone’s rambling and vacant thoughts.
Conclusion: I was honestly pleased to put this one behind me. We just did not click. I require stories that build up a certain amount of anticipation and have more direction. I want to be driven to a conclusion. I found Wolf in White Van is more of just an existing series with no powerful moments, but I am sure there is an audience willing to embrace it.
Listened to with a cup of Darjeeling tea.