Title: Wolf in White Van
Author: John Darnielle
2014 – Fiction – Realistic Fiction
The Story: After a disfiguring accident as a teenager, Sean spends his time crafting an imaginary game known as Trace Italian. It is a snail mail RPG in which players use turns to complete actions and Sean uses their actions to guide them further into the game. But when two players take the game into reality, Sean is called to account for the consequences.
The Opening Line: My father used to carry me down the hall to my room after I came home from the hospital.
What I Loved: My favorite thing in the novel was the game itself. I’m an avid fan of video and board games, so I’ve spent a lot of time with the RPG genre (thanks Ni No Kuni, Skyrim, and Eternal Sonata!) I love novels that are crafted around imaginary game worlds that people can use to escape from reality. Trace Italian seems like it would be a pretty fun game to play.
What I Didn’t Love: I never connected emotionally with Sean’s character. He seemed distant, removed. Still, that isn’t a deal breaker for me, but the rest of the book didn’t hold up either. The narrative switched between bits of memories to flashes of the present to snippets from the game. I never had stable footing; as soon as I got settled into one narrative, I would turn the page and stumble into something completely different. The book didn’t engage me at all.
Final Thoughts: There are several really great novels out there that have some of my favorite video game worlds ever, novels like Heir Apparent, Ready Player One, and Erebos. I think going in, I had these high expectations set by those three books, so Wolf in White Van really never had a chance. I measure every video game novel I read against those books, and this time I just came away disappointed. In fact, it was really just a struggle to get through the book – I considered not finishing, but it was short enough and I continued to hope it would grab me and not let go. After finishing, I just don’t understand all the praise it’s getting. Anyone care to enlighten me?