Review: Wolf in White Van, by John Darnielle.

Wolf in White Van was one of those books with a memorable cover, a cover that made me pick up the book quite a few times and then put it down. A young guy creates this crazy gaming universe, one players participate in via mail, even in these modern times. (Gaming? Not my thing.) But then some fans take the game too serious, get too involved, and something goes really, really wrong, killing some people and horribly maiming the young man who started it all. (Oooh, but tragedies are my thing!) The story opens at the end and works backwards as our narrator recovers.

I had a hard time connecting. For one, I’m not a young guy (or any guy), I’m not crippled, a loner, or into video games. None of these are really insurmountable – I mean, if you think about it, hardly any of the books we read are really and truly about where we are right now. Not exactly. Really good authors find little in-roads to offer us, ways in, ways to connect with the character. I didn’t feel that. I couldn’t find a way in. So I had that going against me.

The writing itself was pretty good. Darnielle’s style was very stark, with these lyrical moments that jump out of nowhere and just pop:

“My parents’ eyes on me, trying to head off the pain at the pass, to start hoisting me out before I had to ask. Several kinds of pain for several people.”

Or, when he talks about being stuck in recovery and the insurmountable hurdle of pain that he compares to his role-playing game:

“But I remain in the stasis of the opening scene, bits of gravel sticking to my face, cold night coming on. I am strong enough to endure it. I am strong enough to remain in its arms forever. I want to get up; I have seen the interior once. I’m not going back. One thing I’ve learned is it’s better sometimes, in the weeds, to resist the temptation to stand up and follow the compass.”

The language is what kept me going when the plot couldn’t keep me. Really what did it was its inclusion on the longlist for the Tournament of Books. And I’m glad I plugged my way through it; it was a decent read. Maybe not something I’d recommend, but definitely something I’d stop and chat about. The creation of the world was definitely done well, and I’m sure someone who could connect with the character would enjoy it much more than I. I just couldn’t find the end of the ball of yarn to follow my way in to the heart of the story. And that made all the difference for me. 3 of 3 stars, because I can recognize good writing when I see it, even if it’s not my taste.

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