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Wolf in White Van: A Novel

Wolf in White Van: A Novel

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Wolf in White Van: A Novel

avaliações:
4/5 (20 avaliações)
Comprimento:
209 página
3 horas
Lançado em:
Sep 16, 2014
ISBN:
9780374709662
Formato:
Livro

Descrição

Long-listed for the 2014 National Book Award in fiction
Winner of the 2015 Alex Award for adult books with special appeal for young adults

Beautifully written and unexpectedly moving, John Darnielle's audacious and gripping debut novel Wolf in White Van is a marvel of storytelling brio and genuine literary delicacy.

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.

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.

Lançado em:
Sep 16, 2014
ISBN:
9780374709662
Formato:
Livro

Sobre o autor

John Darnielle’s first novel, Wolf in White Van, was a New York Times bestseller, National Book Award nominee, and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for first fiction, and widely hailed as one of the best novels of the year. He is the writer, composer, guitarist, and vocalist for the band the Mountain Goats. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife and sons.

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Amostra do Livro

Wolf in White Van - John Darnielle

Copyright

One

1

My father used to carry me down the hall to my room after I came home from the hospital. By then I could walk if I had to, but the risk of falling was too great, so he carried me like a child. It’s a cluster memory now: it consists of every time it happened and is recalled in a continuous loop. He did it every day, for a long time, from my first day back until what seemed like a hundred years later, and after a while, the scene blurred into innumerable interchangeable identical scenes layered one on top of the other like transparencies. On the wall to the right, as you head toward my room, there’s a small bookcase with a painting above it, a western scene: hills and trees, a lake. A blue and green vista near sundown, a silent place. But if you look harder, or happen to turn your head at the right moment as you pass, you see figures, human figures, on what you might otherwise take for an empty ridge. It’s like an optical illusion, this hunting party on the near hill, their curving hats dark in the orange dusk: they come out of hiding if you look at the empty scenery long enough. They were always there in my journey, popping up in the same place each time I’d drift by in my half-sleep. They never lost their power to surprise just by being there, a little smoke rising from somewhere within their three-strong party, their brushstroke rifles resting lightly on their shoulders.

Next to the bookcase, receding into the wall, there’s a chest-high shelf for a rotary phone. To the left, just past the painting, on the other side of the hall, is the bathroom, the sort of open door that if the cameras found it as they passed through the house in a horror movie would trigger a blast of synthesizers. In my many days home after the hospital, I spent long hours in there, lifetimes: in the tub, at the sink. Just getting in and out. It would be a long time before I could comfortably stand underneath a showerhead, and my parents didn’t trust me to sit in the bathtub by myself, so the bathroom became a communal space of forced intimacy. Reconstructed skin is very sensitive to temperature and moisture; the pain sneaks up on you. Every other day they’d bathe me, and every time, I’d feel like it wasn’t so bad for a few minutes; and then the heat would slacken the resewn flaps of my cheeks a little, and the tingling would start up, a rippling alarm traveling down confused wires. I was too generally exhausted to be able to experience fear or panic for longer than a moment, and I’d try to bear the feeling evenly, but its grip was hard and sure, and it held me. 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. The portal still glows with menace in my memory.

Ahead and beyond, two further doors: mine, straight on, and to the right, my parents’. My parents’ room is an uncataloged planet, a night sky presence unknown to scientists but feared by the secret faithful who trade rumors of its mystery. I stood before this door once and didn’t go in: that’s the extent of the legend, really, but my journey down the hall that night, down the same stream through which my father carries me now in my wheeling memory, hints at pockets in the story that are still obscure, which will never find light. What if I’d gone in? I didn’t go in. I stood there a minute and then turned away. If I’d turned around: What then? There are several possibilities; they open onto their own clusters of new ones, and there’s an end somewhere, I’m sure, but I’ll never see it.

I feel and remember my father’s arms underneath me when I’ve come home from the hospital; he isn’t strong enough to do this, but he is forcing himself to do it; I am heavy in his arms, and I feel safe there, but I am lost, and I need constantly to be shoring up the wall that holds my emotions at bay, or I will feel something too great to contain. I see the painting, those cowboy huntsmen at dusk, and they surprise me a little, and I feel my breath catch in my chest when I scan the bathroom; and then I arc my great head a little to the right toward my parents’ room, which disappears from view as my father nudges at the base of my bedroom door with his foot and then turns jaggedly on his heels so we’ll both fit through the frame. He lowers me onto my new bed, the one from the hospital-supply place on White, and I feel the hot egg crate mattress underneath the sheet. Dad squeezes my hand like I remember him doing when I was very small. We look at each other. Teamwork. This happens several times a day, or it’s a single thing that’s always happening somewhere, a current into which I can slip when I need to remember something.

*   *   *

I saw this kid playing on the big metal wheel with the soldered piping: the merry-go-round. The merry-go-round at the fair is for babies, but the playground kind can throw you into the air at high speed; they have to put wood chips around it to break your fall just in case. This happened twice while I was watching: the kid spun the wheel faster and faster, jumped on, tried to crawl in to the still hub and lost his footing, and ended up sailing into the air and coming down hard. He’d lie there and laugh, dizzy, and then punch reset on the whole scene.

At my grandparents’ place, after the last fish went missing, they filled the pond in with cedar chips: I used to play out there when I was little. It was a half-hidden spot between the house and the garage, too small a space to think of as a yard—three cypresses, some rocks here and there, and the former pond. I remember the changeover from water to wood, the shift in tone: that was how I ended up conjuring the place now. I lived whole lives out there back then.

The day they drained the pond I’d gone out back by myself after dinner. This had been a lakeside clearing in a forest for me, a magic place of wizards and wandering knights. It was still magic without the water, but the magic was different now. I could sense it. I closed my eyes.

When I opened them, I felt my mind working transformations. No lake but a cave floor. Not trees but torches burning with a mystic light. Behind them: the back wall of a cave. Before them, me, enthroned, my regal seat hewn from ancient rock, immovable, imperious.

The throne was actually a single stone brought in by the crew that filled in the pond. But under the weight of my small body, I felt it sprout ornately decorated arms with claws at the ends, and a bejeweled latticework back that climbed up several feet above my head. Transformed, it now boasted four short, sturdy legs that terminated in great glowing orbs pressing hard into the earth beneath. I took control of the place, of the scene: I made it mine. Groans echoed in the cave. Brittle bones broke beneath the knees of my crawling subjects. We had moved from San Jose to Montclair a few months back; it had ruined something for me, I was having a hard time making new friends. I had grown receptive to dark dreams.

I saw animal skins running down the cave floor, skull dust rising. Everyone in my orbit would have a terrible day: the arbiter of days had decreed it. From my increasingly improbable perch I looked toward the dark heavens somewhere up beyond the imagined cave ceiling, and I pantomimed the aspect of a man thinking hard about what he might want to eat. And then I looked back down to the present moment, and I spoke; I am King Conan, I said. I thirst for blood.

Backyard Conan, thrown together from half-understood comic books only, took several liberties with the particulars. The Conan that the world knew didn’t drink blood, wasn’t ruthless and cold. In his original form, he’d lived to follow a warrior’s code of honor: enemies met death at his sword, and fellow barbarians shared in the plunder, but they were all men who lived by a code. The code was cruel, but just, consistent: coherent. When I became Conan things were different; his new birth had left scars. I ruled a smoking, wrecked kingdom with a hard and deadly hand. It was dark and gory. No one liked living there, not even its king. It had a soundtrack. All screams.

Small for my age, pants still too tight, enthroned atop the lone rock near the drained pond now stuffed with cedar, I looked out into green leaves drifting down and sought the far distance. In came men carrying prisoners, their hands and ankles tied to branches like hogs at a Hawaiian feast. They were yelling in unknown tongues. Their muscles strained. The fire pit before my throne had sprung up in full glaze. The screams of the condemned ascended to the stars.

I couldn’t fill in the finer points of the plot: what anybody’d done wrong, why they had to die. It didn’t matter. I opened my mouth like a great bird. I was coming down to deal death: to the guilty, to the innocent, to anyone within reach. To you, before me, trapped in the cave above the fire. Flayed and roasted and shared out among the nameless. To die screaming reduced to smoke. Lost in some kingdom found by accident and never heard from again in this world. Eaten by forgotten warriors on unremembered quests for plunder now lost forever.

I was in the park feeding squirrels when the memory crested, peeking out from behind a sort of interior immovable monument in my skull where all the old things lie. I couldn’t put an exact date to it. Somewhere late in the early game, among the several moves from one house to another, my dad between jobs and trying to find his footing. The filled-in fish pond seemed like a giveaway, but it could also have been flown in from some other scene, pasted on. Still: it grew vivid. The ivy in the backyard turning to jungle vines. The ground parching itself, bleaching itself. The composite sky—Pismo, Montclair, San Jose, places we’d lived, lost transitions—cracking along its surface like an old painting in an abandoned museum. And me, in the middle, on a throne whose legs eventually solidified as human femurs bound together with thick rope. I spent several minutes in deep concentration trying to get the picture fixed, to spot clues that would give me some exact sense of when and where, but the edges kept blurring. Sometimes I have trouble finding the edges.

*   *   *

Presently the kid from the merry-go-round turned up in front of me—I’d gotten distracted by the squirrels while remembering my childhood, and I ended up lost. When I looked up, there he was—five years old, I figured, possibly younger. I used to be good at guessing things. I’m not now. He sat down next to me, a little distance between us, and his eyes went from my face to my hand, still casting out peanuts for squirrels or blue jays one at a time. And then he brought his gaze back to my face, where it rested.

He was very quiet as he looked up at me: I was a kid once; I thought I recognized on this one the look of a child deliberating within himself. He pointed in the direction of his question when he finally said it: What did you do to your face?

Well, I told him all about it. He listened while I spoke, while I explained what I had done, and when, and how, and he nodded at all the right places in the story. And then, of course, when I was done explaining, he asked Why? which is a tricky question for me, since the correct answer is I don’t know: and that’s a hard thing to say once all the cards are right there on the table. But he pressed me on it: Yes you do, he said. You do so know.

It was a surprising moment on a day I’d set aside for doing very little, in what I’d already begun to think of as the aftermath. When I’d gotten into the car to drive to the park, I’d thought to myself: You’ve earned an empty moment or two. Instead, here we were. I thought how there’s always more to something than I usually think there is, and I said then that he was right; that I was the only one who could know why I had done what I did, and that I couldn’t think of anybody else who’d be able to come up with any kind of answer. But it was still true that I didn’t have any why for him; I just didn’t have one. I had looked for one, and it wasn’t there.

I could see him starting to think, hard, during the little minute of quiet that followed. Wheels turning. I wondered if maybe something difficult was opening itself up to him—that maybe people do things for no reason, that things just happen, that nobody really knows much.

I don’t believe you. You don’t know, he said. He looked straight at me. You are a fibber.

Am I a fibber? I said, smiling, even though I feel ugly when I smile. I feel like I might have been good with children in a different life.

He nodded his head fiercely. You are!

I flipped my hands palms up, hip level at either side, sitting there on what I now thought of as our bench, and I shrugged. Inside my head I could see how I might have looked to some observer standing at a few paces, me and this kid pointing, and my face; and how we might again look to another observer, stationed at some slightly greater distance. To somebody waiting at the light across the street. How we’d look on film. Or from space. In a Kodak frame. All these ways.

And I liked what I saw, when I took it all in. It was ridiculous. It had an air of the inevitable to it. My smile got bigger as I let the picture grow to occupy the fullness of the space inside my head, and I just let it happen, even though I know it looks awful. Too late to hold back now. I looked over at the kid’s family, who were motioning for him to return to their fold, and I felt something inside, something fine and small and dense. I looked out across the park. Came all this way and now here I am.

*   *   *

At the apartment complex the Saturday gardeners were just finishing up. The grass was tight and clean. They’d trimmed back the gardenia hedge so severely in some places that the stalks looked like petrified bones, little hands reaching up from the earth.

I went inside and I puttered around on the computer, trying to finish up something I’d been working on, a little corner of a detour hardly anybody ever cared about. Most weekends I try to put my work aside, but there wasn’t anything else to do. Then I checked my bank accounts, a nervous habit: I’m not rich, or even that comfortable, but my grandmother opened up a savings account for me after my accident, and she kept putting a little into it every month for ten years until she died. It’s a security blanket now. I look at what’s in there whenever I start to worry that my own savings or the insurance payments or my work won’t be enough. It’s like checking a lock on a door: just making sure no bad guys are going to get in. And then I played some music, old music, and it sounded awful, and I loved it, I loved it so

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3.9
20 avaliações / 30 Análises
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Avaliações de leitores

  • (3/5)
    Lyrical and interesting, as I'd expect from JD. I listened to the audiobook, and I think his weird rhythm suited the prose. Not my favorite book of the year, but I enjoyed it.

    As with a lot of great magic systems and world-building in fantasy/sci-fi, Trace Italian itself seemed interesting enough for its own book.
  • (5/5)
    The book interestingly begins by describing the writer as “one of the greatest lyricists of his generation”. Having never listened to the Mountain Goats I giggled, but damn if this book wasn’t good. The plot was captivating, the writing was beautiful, and the descriptions and focus on memory really spoke to me. While much of it bounces back and forth between time, the discussions and reflections on memory provide interesting insight into all we do.
  • (4/5)
    Finished the book last night and this morning found myself starting again from the beginning. Had to stop and let the book live in my mind. America, guns, mass murder - but friendship, life, death.
  • (3/5)
    Well this book was more depressing than I thought it was going to be. And I mean, I wasn’t expecting a jolly book, what with the premise of a guy who tried to commit suicide. But there was just too much left unresolved.

    I could definitely tell a musician wrote this. There was poetry in the words. It was often sad, but it was emotional in the way that good sad songs are.

    The “plot” was confusing at best. I was never really sure what were the important parts, but I liked the lyrical text and the musings about life. This whole book was an exploration of “l’appel de vide” the “call of the void”, where you have an impulse to do something like jump off a building or crash your car. What would happen if you made that strongest choice? Well, in this story, it turns out kinda bad. And the whole book explores the results of actually acting out those impulses. It was weird and unsatisfying, but I think that was the point.
  • (4/5)
    This novel held my interest. The first person narrative is not straight forward, but a unique blend of perceptions on the world. The plot does not stretch very far, and yet because of the author's imagination other non-physically present elements are added.
  • (2/5)
    Although acquainted with Darnielle through the Mountain Goats, I can't say I'm a fan of either his music or this first novel. I recognize in both his storytelling capacity & his imagination, but neither manages to capture me.The conceit of the novel is interesting enough. It is a story told in reverse that involves recreating the story that the main character, Sean, concocts while recovering from his failed suicide attempt. The tale he weaves to cope with pain and boredom in the hospital serves as a prototype for a mail-in role-playing game, which eventually affords him a small income, and which connects him (somewhat tenuously) to the outside world. The death of one of his players IRL and the severe injury of another supposedly draws him into the public eye (his game is deemed responsible and he is brought to court), allegedly compelling a disfigured man to confront himself, his inner world, and his fateful decision to end his life.But the conceit doesn't quite work. It doesn't quite pay off. Suspense is poorly managed throughout, characters are left unduly (or unbelievably) opaque, and Darnielle doesn't quite deliver Sean's confrontation between reality and fiction in a convincing or compelling way. There is not enough information offered to understand any of Sean's relationships with others, be they his parents, his players, his (former) friends, or himself.If that is the point--that we really can't understand why anyone chooses what they choose, and that most people can't even explain why they choose what they do--then I guess we've rewound and are left back at the beginning of the tape with more questions and even fewer answers. Probably that is the point of the novel. As I reader I do not mind being left without an answer generally, but in this case the characters were too shallow for me to care about, and so the "is that are there is?" finale was a special annoyance. In the final analysis, largely a WOMFT.
  • (4/5)
    A beautifully written book but one I found somewhat disappointing. In the 1980s, my wife and I played a game similar to the one that is central to this novel, in which players mail their moves to a game master who responds in kind. Reading this took me back to the pleasures of that sort of game, and reminded me as well of the first computer games, text only of course. The main character is complex and engaging, and so I am still trying to decide why the book disappointed me--I think I felt some let down because the central plot mover was so clearly telegraphed to readers over the course of the book, but I might also have expected such a carefully crafted, enjoyable novel to end on a higher note.
  • (3/5)
    3.5. This is not a plot heavy book, instead a slow-reveal tour through the mind of an isolated, disfigured misfit who makes idiosyncratic text-based games for other people who struggle to fit in in the world. The narrator is a classic Darnielle character - like one of the kids from Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton who channels his angst into fantasy worlds rather than metal – and the writing is as good as you’d expect from one of pop music’s smartest lyricists. It’s pretty grim reading, with shafts of light peaking through occasionally – not really great summer reading.
  • (5/5)
    Every time the Mountain Goats come on in my car (which is often – I may be a little bit of an obsessive person, whoops) Sam pats my dashboard and says, “Oh, John!” He’s trying to make fun of me because if you pay attention to pretty much any song in their catalog at some point you’ll find yourself saying the same thing – and I’ve been known to do it without even realizing it.John is great. John is emotional. John is always fucking things up. John’s a mess! I love John!I wasn’t sure he could pull off a novel though. I’ve had limited experiences with lyricists I love writing novels – really just Jost Ritter‘s Bright’s Passage, which I actively disliked. I love John and I love his lyrics but I just wasn’t sure I wanted to spend hours and hours in his head.As it turns out, I do! As it turns out, John has got some serious chops all around. Wolf in a White Van wasn’t a “Mountain Goats Novel,” in which everyone is drunk all the time and making terrible decisions and feeling sad and defeated about it. Don’t get me wrong – all of those things happened but there was also a very rich, unique, and affecting storyline underneath it all. This book astounded me.
  • (5/5)
    Wolf in White Van is a beautiful, mysterious, complex, and compelling novel. I have been thinking of it, going over in my mind it's chapters, it's labyrinthine cover and and it's labyrinthine pages, since completing it, and soon I will, I have to, read it over again. I must admit, John Darnielle at the Mountain Goats have come to be one of my favorite bands, and with his lyrical, intricate song writing expressing entire stories in 3 or 4 minute pieces, I had high hopes for this novel, high hopes that were in no way disappointed, and were, in fact, surpassed.An exploration of the memories of Sean, a man disfigured in a terrible teenage accident, he spends his time piecing together intricate worlds for other people to explore; the post-apocalyptic Trace Italian, among other old fashioned play be mail fantasy games, he shares his vision and imagination with others only to have, once again, tragedy strike as a pair of kids try to bring Seans' world into their real lives, with deadly results. The Trace Italian, with its vision of a devastated future America with a promise, however impossible, of a perfect world hidden in its interior strikes me as particularly apt, a vision of the world many of us live in. An extremely introspective novel, Sean is an unreliable narrator as he considers how the choices he made has effected his life and the lives of others; like a "Choose Your Own Adventure Book" or a roleplaying game, every choice we make can have dire, wonderful, unimagined consequences; what would happen if things went a different way? Wolf in White Van is packed with wonder, pain, and sadness, intricate details which will reward another reading, I feel. How our memory haunts our imagination, our inner lives and our relationships with others, how our choices make us, and if there is any way we can make better choices, all resonate through the novel without overpowering Sean's story, and Darnielle's masterful descriptions. Reading it after terrible tragedy has stricken my own life, Darnielle's language and thoughtfulness actually brought tears to me eyes. What new perspectives and ideas will I find in the next exploration?
  • (5/5)
    While not destined for mass-market appeal, I enjoyed Wolf In White Van immensely, and am disappointed that I cannot think of more people to recommend it to! I fear this title may have a very specific fan base - more cult-following than anything else. That being said, I personally found Sean to be such a familiar character that this book leaves me feeling haunted. Beautifully crafted, I found the audio version to be fantastically read by the author, John Darnielle.
  • (4/5)
    When I was growing up with three brothers, it usually felt like gender was fluid and semi-imaginary, a concept that my parents used to excuse behaviors from my brothers while punishing them from me. But other times, it truly seemed that adolescent boys were another planet: inexplicable, barren, and remote; the fact that they were the stars of all the books and media I encountered a societal conspiracy, meant to trick me into thinking that they were also human. So to a certain extent, this book feels like a truth finally acknowledged, like I am an alien abductee discovering others like me in some dark corner of the internet.
  • (4/5)
    A disturbing will-he-won't-he story told by a man disfigured by a suicide attempt. This book is full of small moments, but they certainly are powerful.
  • (4/5)
    At the beginning it felt like 5 stars. The right combo of intriguing and thoughtful. Towards the middle I took a break, and when I came back and read Part 2, it didn't feel as affecting. It was still an excellent book, and for that, it gets 4 stars.
  • (3/5)
    A young man with a severe face-disfiguring injury makes a modest living running a play-by-mail game set in a post-apocalyptic America. He faces a possible lawsuit when two of the players in his game take it too far with tragic consequences, and compares the nature of the game with the path his own life has taken.I thought this was a thoughtful book, but it never gave me enough information to satisfy. I think the author is trying to get across the point that people don't often understand their own actions, especially those that are spur-of-the-moment, let alone the actions of anyone else. I don't disagree with that message, but I would have liked more factual information, especially on what the two players in the game thought they were doing.
  • (3/5)
    This disturbing story is narrated by Sean Phillips, a young man who becomes isolated from the world when his face becomes disfigured. Sean spends his time during and after his recovery creating and managing a fantasy game called Trace Italian which he sells through the mail. A young Trace Italian player takes the game too literally and dies as a result. Through alternating chapters and a back and forth timeline, the cause of Sean's disfigurement and details about the death of the young player are revealed. Parallels can be drawn between the disfigurement and the death which both appear to be results of little forethought. The book was well written but very dark.
  • (4/5)
    This is a bleak, psychological novel that succeeds in portraying the mind of a very troubled but imaginative and sensitive young man. Sean Phillips has been severely disfigured and thus has become an introverted social misfit. He seeks meaning by administering a role-playing game called Trace Italian. The participants seek sanctuary in a post apocalyptic world by traveling to safety in this fictitious fortress—not unlike Sean’s own journey from isolation to independence. Sean uses fantasy to heal and obtain a sense of worth, but he also discovers that this can be quite dangerous if taken too literally as illustrated by two young participants who suffer as a result of the game.The title refers to back masking in rock records. Legend holds that if one plays seemingly benign records backwards evil and satanic messages can become apparent. It seems that Darnielle has taken this motif to an extreme by laying out his timeline for the novel in reverse. Unfortunately, this tends to confuse the overall reading experience without adding much to the story. It seems reasonable that this novel might have been more effective if read backward because then Sean moves from an almost hopeless situation to one of independence and redemption.
  • (3/5)
    This book fell into my hands somehow, and intrigued me by the jacket blurb, though the cover made my eyes spin. Two threads of the same story, told from opposite directions. Excellent writing, intricate story lines, compelling character detail, enough so that by the end (which is the beginning of the story), I really did not like the central character. But I suppose the author knew that would be a reaction. It then made me wonder about the quality of forgiveness-- how much can one forgive about another's past to be actually able to like, trust, believe, or even love them in the present?at-least-the-writing-was-good, awardwinner, currently-reading, made-me-sad, mixed-feelings, not-to-my-taste, thought-provoking
  • (4/5)
    Not mine but excellent description: But what drives “Wolf in White Van” is Mr. Darnielle’s uncanny sense of what it’s like to feel marginalized, an outsider, a freak. He has an instinctive understanding of fetid teenage emotional states and the “timelines of meaningless afternoons that ended somewhere big and terrible.”
  • (3/5)
    I applaud the author for the original concept of this book as well as the outstanding prose. After a disfiguring injury Sean, who know must live in his mind creates a game by mail called Trace Italian. He is able to make a modest living from this game, which is endangered by the unfortunate fate of two of the players. Despite physical and mental despair, with this he finds something to live for, something in which he is engaged. A place he escape to when his stress level is high.I wish I could have connected more with this story and with Sean as well. There is much about music, old movies and other cultural references which, maybe because I am not a gamer, I could not relate.The book is structured so that the ending is basically told first and the present told last. There are many references along the way so that the ending, which is really the beginning, is not a shock.
  • (3/5)
    This book is a bit of trip. Reading it was like finding out you have a lot in common with a mentally deranged loner. I picked up all the pop culture references that Darnielle was putting down, but I was disturbed by how these same cultural touchstones had affected, or at least adorned, the main character of Wolf in White Van. I love the movie Krull, I own several battered editions of the DMG, but I cringe at Sean's life. I am not sure of how to view Sean. The time line is all over the place and he's a bit of an unreliable narrator, so I don't know if I should see him as a victim or a monster. Overall, the book had great sentence structure, great story telling, but it certainly was sad and disturbing. If there is a happy nerd character out their in modern literature, I have yet to come across it. Chabon, Diaz, and now Darnielle. Do all their lives have to be so tragic?
  • (3/5)
    A fever dream. A stare-into-the-fire kind of vision quest. It's that kind of book. And yet the story felt thin. Perhaps because of its slim size. Read more like a novella. Usually I would be excited about a book like this. It has a unique structure: an ending revealed upfront and the story going back in time; a re-telling through a text-based game world evocatively called "Trace Italian." The melancholy burns. It has scorched out all the oxygen in the air. Will wait a bit before writing a full review.
  • (5/5)
    Extraordinary book. Creates a claustrophobic room cluttered with pop culture, cassette tapes, and Conan novels that is the head of its protagonist, then drags you inexorably to the horrific incident that made him that way.
  • (4/5)
    Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not alter my review in any way.Wow. This book has just – surprised me. I just – wow. I’ve been reading so many good books and giving out such favourable reviews lately you guys are going to think I’m getting soft. But this one, it is really good.It is also very different. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, instead it was something much better, something intriguing, suspenseful and unlike anything else I have ever read. And it just left me wondering, trying to turn over such an unfathomable thing in my mind.At the age of seventeen, Sean suffers a lifechanging and disfiguring injury that isolates him from the rest of the world. In hospital he began to write and create a whole new imaginary world, a text based game where players subscribe and receive their turns by mail. The world exists only in his – and their – minds. The game takes place in a futuristic America that has been ravaged by radioactive poisoning where players are seeking a safe location called Trace Italian. When two high school students take the game out into the real world a tragedy occurs and Sean is called to account for it. Through the novel the readers are taken backwards in time, through the progression and creation of the game, through Sean’s time in hospital, back to that moment that ultimately decided Sean’s future. I read this in a day and a half. It’s not long, but it was difficult to get into at first until I became accustomed to Darnielle’s writing style. There is no clear beginning and end to this story; we are dropped into a memory, knowing that something terrible has happened to Sean but not really sure what just yet. That is revealed over time. The slow reveal can be excruciating to a demanding reader like myself, but I remained patient. I wandered through Sean’s memories, his stories, his game. I tried to understand him, and my first reaction was to sympathise with him, but my feelings changed along the course of the novel, while still trying to understand. I can imagine how his parents were so frustrated, because like me they lacked understanding, they wanted answers to a question they probably weren’t going to get, but I still couldn’t believe some of the things they said. The construction of this novel is irregular and unconventional but it all still makes sense and it suits the story. We work backwards, but its not always linear. There was every opportunity to be confused but somehow it all made sense.The two high school students, Lance and Carrie, who take their play of Sean’s game out of the imaginative realm and into the real world are interesting catalysts for Sean’s backward train of thought, but this was never about them. It is where the lines between fantasy and reality blur for Sean, but the game was never the problem. The game seems to have been his salvation. And it’s not what has happened that’s surprising or shocking, because we know from the start it was something bad, it’s more the intricate details of it all, the things we don’t often think about. It’s also very hard to talk about without spoilers. The nature of this book and its heavy content means it won’t be for everyone, however there is a lot to be found here. There were times when I would reread paragraphs or whole pages, even once I’d finished, trying to wrap my head around the situation. Trying – and failing – to imagine what life was, and is, like for Sean. It’s difficult to process. It’s not easy to stump me. This novel has done exactly that. I’m still sitting here wondering. I got sucked into it and then it spat me out at the end and I am still wondering. It is nothing short of brilliant, I just wish there was more to the answer. But maybe I am looking for something that does not exist. 
  • (5/5)
    Unique, self-contained, truly brilliant, disturbed. Will be thinking about this one for a long time. Absolutely take a minute to look up images of a trace italienne (a star fort) - they are real and are amazing.
  • (5/5)
    Profoundly sad but remarkably resonant and told with a unique voice. Even knowing the place the plot was going and working backward, many episodes offer potent revelations. I sought out this first novel after hearing about the author on the Judge John Hodgman podcast.
  • (3/5)
    My low rating is not a reflection on the quality of this book, which is very creative. It is simply based on my enjoyment factor while I read it. I felt so disconnected to this whole story and I could not understand the thoughts or motives of any of the characters. I felt such relief when I got to the end of it.
  • (2/5)
    I'm putting this behind a spoiler shield, but not going to reveal much. This is the story of a psychologically messed up person, who also ends up in an accident. You may want it to be explained some other way, but it is not. The other thing is that it is written in a style that isn't as poetic or pretty as it needs to be to carry off the conceit the author is trying to carry off. Not a terrible read, but not a great one.
  • (4/5)
    As a Mountain Goats fan, probably the main reason why anyone would get their hands on this immediately or immediately as you can when you have few ideas for Christmas presents, I am predisposed to liking this book. That said it is quite a brilliant and look at the world through Darnielle's incisive wit, sharp use of imagery and dealing with the world when everything has seemingly gone to shit.

    My only gripe with the narrative, especially compared to Darinelle's 33 1/3 book, is that Sean, the narrator, is almost too witty, clever and this dry, taciturn voice is too controlled and makes the story a bit sterile, like the author is the in the role of game designer himself and you can see the choices and pathways too obviously with each chapter.

    Read this book. It's a good one.
  • (4/5)
    "Backyard Conan, thrown together from half-understood comic books only, took several liberties with the particulars. The Conan that the world knew didn’t drink blood, wasn’t ruthless and cold. In his original form, he’d lived to follow a warrior’s code of honor: enemies met death at his sword, and fellow barbarians shared in the plunder, but they were all men who lived by a code. The code was cruel, but just, consistent: coherent. When I became Conan things were different; his new birth had left scars. I ruled a smoking, wrecked kingdom with a hard and deadly hand. It was dark and gory. No one liked living there, not even its king. It had a soundtrack. All screams.”If Iain Banks had collaborated with the Strugatsky Brothers to reimagine the world of ???????? ??????, this novel may’ve sounded very similar. Not to take anything away from the originality of this work—it’s stunning and every bit as engaging as Banks’ early works or the Strugatskys’ sci-fi fare. All from the frontman of the Mountain Goats, who writes amazing lyrics, sometimes for concept albums, so it’s no surprise Mr. Darnielle can spin a yarn. However, to have a unique voice, not bore the shit out of me, and keep me guessing until the end (what the hell is Trace Italian, anyway?) is another feat usually reserved for novelists and novelists alone.Also loved the packaging and layout of the thing, which I normally don’t bother mentioning in these mini-impressions. But, you know, a great job all around deserves, on all fronts—writing style, plot, book design—all possible accolades.