Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle is, well, a book that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. Still trying to understand.
I take that as a good thing, no matter how confused I am. It’s a book that is staying with me long after I finished that last sentence.
For one, the plot was not at all what I imagined. In a simple sentence or two this book is about Sean, who at 17 tried to commit suicide, but essentially misses leaving him to
become a reclusive person in his early thirties, where the story begins. Sean is brought back through memories to what happened leading up to the gunshot and moments that occurred afterwards until we are brought to the climax and the end of the story – the moment that shaped so much of Sean’s life.
“Some lessons you learn gradually and some you learn in a sudden moment, like a flash going off in a dark room.”
I enjoyed Darnielle’s writing. It was refreshingly simple considering most of it is mostly a stream of consciousness of Sean’s, with dialogue from memories thrown in here and there. I also really liked how the structure of the book was written out; in reverse. We learn of the catalyst that pushes and pulls Sean down memory lane in the beginning; two teenagers playing one of Sean’s text-based roleplaying games decide to take the game out into the real world with dire consequences. And then it unfolds backwards in a sense, until we reach that pivotal moment of Sean’s young life.
I’ve already talked a little about the plot above; I think the plot is what makes people either like and enjoy the story or dislike it. The story is not a very exciting, on the edge of your seat book. It’s a semi-strange story about alienation, being alone, and trying to find meaning. Sean finally finds that in his post-apocalyptic text-based game that he administers through letters with his players. When the two teenagers take the game into the real world and things go wrong, Sean ends up being sued, but we only get small glimpses here and there because the brief legal battle is not the core of the story.
When I got to the end, I knew what happened it was coming, yet I hoped for this moment to be different. The only thing that confused me was trying to figure out where in Sean’s memories, thoughts, and feelings the trigger for him to want to commit suicide occurred.
I have a theory. Somewhere in one of his memories, Sean mentions thinking that there are multiple universes. I think he simply did not want to live in this one because he could not grasp the meaning of living in it. But I don’t necessarily think that means that he wanted to die; to stop existing.
“Forever is a question you start asking when you look at the ceiling. It becomes a word you hear in the same way that people who associate sound with color might hear a flat sky-blue. The open sky through which forgotten satellites travel. Forever.”
You really only get to know Sean because any other characters are only briefly mentioned in a memory. To me, Sean seems fine with solitude; for the most part I think he’s accepted the consequences of his actions. The character still feels lonely to me though, but not enough or with any intention (I think) of making me feel bad for him.
His parents continued to love him of course, but after the incident, too many questions are left unanswered for his parents and I think a small divide between them occurs.
Any other characters I only remember brief moments of, not enough to create a full image of a character.
What I Disliked
For a good portion of the book, I kept feeling that I was completely missing the point/ theme of the book and that frustrated me. I don’t think many other readers had the same problem as me but it also makes me think that maybe some things were a little too vague. You can read my Goodreads updates below:
This is another one of those books that I think you have to read to find out if you’re going to like it or not. I don’t know if I know who/ what type of reader I would recommend this book to, but I do not regret reading it.
Now, after all that, does this intrigue you at all?