Wolf In White Van by John Darnielle (5 out of 5)
Sean Phillips hasn’t had it easy. He suffers a disfiguring injury at 17 that makes it pretty impossible for him to do much of anything, especially live a normal life. So he lives a semi-hermetic existence, living in a small, nondescript apartment in southern California, spinning imaginary domains and worlds for strangers to play in. It’s called Trace Italian, a text-based RPG played through MAIL (regular mail, not email). Sean guides the players through the domains and intricately crafted worlds that they have to survive in, almost as if he is living vicariously through the players of the game. In Florida, Lance and Carrie are high school students playing Trace Italian, but they take it a step further, and bring it out of the world that Sean has crafted for it, into the real world. All hell does break loose, and Sean, being the creator, has to answer for the chaos that ensues. This unrolls a time warp, and he’s pulled back into time, where he has to fight for his own survival in the world that’s been created. It’s an unbelievable novel as concept goes; in a million years and a million books I have read, I could not in a million years summon forth the premise that Darnielle has. It is incredibly difficult to put this small book down once you get into it. Normally, a book this size would take me a couple of hours, but I had to go back and keep re-reading parts of it. Not only to grasp the careening car that the plot is (in a good way), but to try to gather forth the grasp of language that Darnielle has. The vocabulary and sentence structure that he has is fantastic. I have never enjoyed having to go back and re-read a book so much, because I could marvel at how he made certain passages work with the words he brought forth. Don’t get me wrong, this book is great on its own, but how he brought it to life with words? Beyond inspirational. Sean going back in time to the accident that shaped this entire destiny? Genius.
A friend of mine compared this to Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I can see why he made that comparison, but it’s a whole different level (no gaming puns intended. I swear!) with this book. Ready Player One was a lot of fun and a great read through a lot of 80’s nostalgia. This is so much higher on the level of literature it’s staggering. This was more plot-driven, soul-driven than Cline’s book (no disrespect meant. Still love that book. I just love this more). The ending is truly something that I can’t put into words, but Darnielle wraps it up with one big red bow and delivers it to the lucky reader who picks it up. And I strongly encourage you to do so.