Book Reviews / Guest Posts

Guest Post from Ken Ardent: Book Review of Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Ken Ardent is another of my friends from way back and I am so pleased to have them on the blog. As you are about to read, their writing style is their own and there is a beautiful elegance to the turns of phrase. I hope you enjoy this review as much as I did. At the moment, Ardent doesn’t have any social links to share, but as soon as they arise, you’ll be sure to find them here.

John Darnielle’s novel Wolf in White Van shows how imagination, when wielded by an unreliable mind, can be deadly. The consequences of imagination are minimal until it breaches the barrier into reality, until the choices made yield true pain – then imagination can be a destructive and physically powerful force. What author John Darnielle broaches with Wolf in White Van is how life is filled with infinite paths and choices, and the danger of getting caught up in picking the right one.

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
Taken by Ken Ardent


“I feel my own freedom remembering this turn, what it means to find a place where the world’s shut out for good at last, where all signs point back to one another and the overall pattern’s clear if you look hard enough.” (p. 40)

Sean Phillips has endured a horrific accident. An accident which has forced him to spend the majority of his days inside, alone, working on Trace Italian. Trace Italian is a role playing game Sean has crafted in his own mind during his endless hospital stays and self-induced solitude. Players fuel the game’s post-apocalyptic narrative by writing to Sean, describing the world he has created and how they play a part in it, and Sean responds with various turns that they may pick from. This is how Sean is able to support his menial lifestyle and is how we learn about how his accident has shaped his life, why he has created an occupation based solely on the correct next move, and how the line between fantasy and reality can easily blur joining the two together.

The Author

“It is a terrible thing to feel trapped within a movie whose plot twists are senseless.” (p. 94)

The author John Darnielle, of the band The Mountain Goats, has a style which mirrors the flourishing imagination of the novel’s main character, Sean. A magnificent lyricist, Darnielle is able to harness the power of the human imagination by painting vivid pictures for us; of Trace Italian, of Sean’s wild and often questionable thoughts and of the power of loneliness. Not without it’s flaws, Darnielle’s style can often be hard to follow as he forsakes ease with jumpy, repetitive and over-complicated sentence structure.

The Style

What may be perceived as cluttered in style, however, is also highly representative of the unreliable narrator present in Wolf in White Van. We rely solely on Sean’s interpretation of reality, one which, as the novel progresses, becomes increasingly shaky. As the novel unfolds Sean’s mental stability, both before and after the accident, are called into question and we are forced to follow his erratic thoughts through imaginary worlds and experience first-hand how those worlds can in fact seep into our reality.

In Conclusion,

”I did hope that at some point I’d be able to explain my recent theory that it isn’t really possible to kill yourself, that everybody goes on forever in multiple dimensions…” (p.121)

Wolf in White Van, while cumbersome at times, is an interesting exploration of  loneliness and escape into fantasy and will certainly leave you questioning the true meaning behind choice and purpose.

You can find Wolf in White Van on Amazon(US) or add it to Goodreads.


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