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Wolf in White Van

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3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  15,082 Ratings  ·  2,218 Reviews
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 17, 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 ...more
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published September 16th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Dustin I'm not sure there is a moral to the story. For me, it's about the feeling of isolation and depression as a teenager. How it manifests itself, how…moreI'm not sure there is a moral to the story. For me, it's about the feeling of isolation and depression as a teenager. How it manifests itself, how this character tried to deal with it. The kind of quiet momentum that builds up in a young persons troubled mind, and how it can pull them under, without really ever understanding why. And it's about choices and crossroads, and how you accept your choices from the past, and deal with their repercussions. Trying to move forward but still looking back, even when you don't want to. It's not really a "here is an answer" book, it's more of a "here's what this feels like" book.(less)
Rob Secundus There is a little bit of bad language, and no sex that I can recall, but this is not at all appropriate for a 12 year old unless that kid is…moreThere is a little bit of bad language, and no sex that I can recall, but this is not at all appropriate for a 12 year old unless that kid is *extremely* mature. And I don't mean "all the other parents compliment my Johnny on how grown up he is" mature. I mean he could be mistaken for an adult if he was communicating with someone via text.

Really though, your question makes me think this would be a good book for you. A large chunk of it is devoted to looking at the really problematic ways parents approach the fiction their kids consume. I think you might find the relationships of the book enlightening, especially if your primary concern is whether or not the book has naughty words in it. (less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Drew
Jun 01, 2014 Drew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5+.
I sat for 20 minutes after finishing the novel, staring out at the East River, and thinking. The complexity at work here made me want to start it up again - but I didn't want to ruin the moment, as it were. It's the sort of book that both demands a second go and insists that you leave it alone. It is frustrating, in some ways. It is beautiful in all the ways. And what seems at first like something altogether simple becomes, quite quickly, so much more than that. It is a gift, really: this no
...more
Jessica
Sep 18, 2014 Jessica rated it liked it
John Darnielle's band, The Mountain Goats, is one of my favorite bands, and I wanted this to be a five-star book so badly. The writing is solid, and the book is structurally and conceptually interesting, but the whole thing just didn't come together for me in a particularly satisfying way.

The title Wolf in White Van is a reference to backmasking in rock records, specifically the evangelical Christian scaremongering that if you played seemingly benign records backwards you'd hear all kinds of Sat
...more
Jonathan Ashleigh
Oct 07, 2014 Jonathan Ashleigh rated it it was amazing
I was pulled into this book immediately. The main character, an interesting and not-so-lovable outcast, runs a fantasy play-through-the-mail game and the reader is left to wonder wether or not he intentionally shot himself in the face years earlier. This was one of those books that seems to know what is going on in your life when you read it; at least it was for me. If you liked Wolf in White Van, I think you would love The Sorrows of Young Mike.
Maxwell
Mar 20, 2015 Maxwell rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle, 2015
First read: May 3, 2015
Second read: December 28-30, 2016

Updated review:
I can't think of another time where I actually liked a book less the second time reading it. That's not to say that I still don't enjoy this book, but when I read it for the first time I gave it 5 stars. It blew me away, and I still cherish that reading experience. But after having re-read the book, I am not nearly as enthralled by it as I remember. I have a few theories as to why. The first time I read it all in one sitting,
...more
Stephen M
Oct 02, 2014 Stephen M rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Stephen M by: Mariel
This is the kind of book that shouldn't have an ending.

Really, the author should have created a subscription service where you mail him a posted envelope, and he sends you the next chapter. The avid readers will get their "bottomless" fill of the book and it won't have to stop. Not officially. You won't have to let your eyes linger over the final words thinking, this is it, is it? And you feel a sick loneliness and you miss a person you've never met and that doesn't even exist.

The novel featur
...more
Mariel
Sep 19, 2014 Mariel rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: I was going to be lonely anyway
Recommended to Mariel by: ghostless harbor
Shelves: my-love-life
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.

In the answerless nightlight of his grandmother's ghostly tv he has a too late static awakening. Nightly hauntings of something coming over him from outside or is it inside in speechless answers. He's condemned to a life of never meeting his eyes. People hide behind rehearsal time smiles. The real world. Sean blew hi
...more
Maciek
Sep 29, 2014 Maciek rated it it was ok
Wolf in White Van has received excellent advance reviews, and now has been longlisted for the National Book Award. I knew nothing about the book and its author before picking it up - I only read it because of the title and the NBA nomination. The latter is a particular surprise, considering that it's a debut novel and that the author is more widely known for being a musician and leading an indie band.

The book introduces Sean Philips, who at the age of 17 suffered a serious accident - one which h
...more
Leah
Upon finishing Wolf in White Van, I spent a good hour reading reviews - what were they seeing that I couldn't? That was back in August. Now, weeks later, I've gone back and looked at those reviews again, the glowing praise, the life-changing commentary. Still I'm not getting it and that more than anything is what frustrates me. Even when I don't like a book I can still see the other side, understand just what its fans find so appealing. That's not the case here. Wolf in White Van is barely over ...more
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Oct 01, 2014 Paquita Maria Sanchez rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
I guess my only focused complaint is that the book is a good bit too small for such a giant subject. Still, it manages quite well with the little bit of room it takes up, with much in the way of subtext and gentle but effective prodding of big, important topics like mental instability, and that way a small thing can feel like some overwhelming everything in its peak (and for some, their last) moment, especially when you're young and lacking in some much-needed perspective. It kept reminding me o ...more
Elyse
Oct 27, 2014 Elyse rated it really liked it
I first learned of this book a couple of years ago in Austin, Texas. It was a highlighted
book - front center -at "Book People".....the wonderful famous bookstore.
Standing next to another customer he told me how much he loved the book and had read it twice. The more the guy talked - I was sure it wasn't a book for me. ( not bring much into games...but I enjoyed the strangers excitement anyway)

Later I remember seeing the book begin to pop up on Goodreads... with varied ratings.
I don't remember p
...more
Kinga
Sep 25, 2014 Kinga rated it really liked it
It’s the sort of book you read in three hours and then think about it for ten.

It’s an elliptical novel which, while going back in time, circles closer and closer to the original incident that set the whole thing in motion, the incident in which Sean, the narrator, lost his face (literally). His new condition of looking like a one person freak show has him practically house-bound, so he invents other worlds and sets his mail-subscription role playing games there. Sean is not the sort of guy who
...more
Tony
Aug 20, 2014 Tony rated it liked it
I found myself frustrated by this. It was one of these really interesting reads that I was rooting for. You know, it had all kinds of promise early on, but ultimately left me cold. The story itself is a fascinating dreamlike inner portrait of a damaged kid. Darnielle's structure plays with time, putting things in reverse order for the most part. And there's a defining incident at the end, but there's no drama to it because it's referred to so much earlier that we know what it is. And that must b ...more
Imogen
Sep 22, 2014 Imogen rated it it was amazing
[I heard that someone (definitely not me) pirated an electronic version of this beautifully melancholy thing, blew through it in a day, and liked it so much she immediately went out and bought it in hardcover.]
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Aug 08, 2016 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it really liked it
Shelves: read2016
This novel has a unique premise and voice, and I really enjoyed reading it. I just wish I had read it in a group because there is a lot to discuss after finishing. I felt I knew more when I started then when it was over, and I've been listening to the author's band ever since and I just don't know where I am anymore.

Paul
Oct 04, 2014 Paul rated it liked it
3.5 stars?

Look, I'll say upfront this review (less a review than scatter-shot personal impressions) likely won't be helpful to anyone. My tastes can be picayune and I think this book is a perfect example of that.

Okay. There are many excellent moments and pretty sentences, but the whole didn't quite fit together for me. Speaking as a former high school misfit (the former refers to high school, not the misfit) I dig me a good story from that POV. But. But I dig me a misfit story that takes a more
...more
Diane S ☔
Jun 03, 2014 Diane S ☔ rated it liked it
I applaud the author for the original concept of this book as well as the outstanding prose. After a disfiguring injury Sean, who now 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 ha
...more
Larry Hoffer
Jul 08, 2014 Larry Hoffer rated it liked it
John Darnielle's Wolf in White Van is quirky and cool, tremendously creative and a little bewildering. How's that for a reading experience?

When Sean Phillips was 17 he suffered a disfiguring injury that left him near death. Even years later, people still stop and stare at him when they see him, and he lives an isolated life, practically estranged from his parents, and apart from periodic errands, he sees only his doctors and a visiting nurse who helps care for him.

While Sean was recovering in th
...more
Blair
Feb 12, 2017 Blair rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-release
I had to take a bit of time to mull over this before writing about it. For one thing, I discovered after finishing it that the protagonist is at least partly based on a real person, and therefore the story isn't as wonderfully original as I had been assuming. (My original opening paragraph for this review was going to be about the magic of fiction that makes you think, wonderingly, where the hell did they get this idea from, how can anyone be this imaginative, not because it diverges wildly from ...more
Julia Rose
Jul 21, 2014 Julia Rose rated it it was amazing
Shelves: heavier
Amazing. One of the best books of 2014. 207 mesmerizing pages that I read in 3 sittings. I have never read anything like this. Big ideas that don’t shout. At once gentle and brutal, Wolf in White Van tells a story about a teenager—a fantasy lover, a gamer, sort of a loner—who approaches the edge of inner darkness and keeps going. Here is Sean’s reflection, as an adult who runs a post-apocalyptic role playing game through snail-mail, on imagination and why we hurt ourselves—and what that means, i ...more
Snotchocheez
Sep 24, 2014 Snotchocheez rated it it was ok

My knee-jerk reaction would be to slap one star on Wolf in White Van, move on and be done with it. I just could not see the point author John Darnielle (brainchild/frontman of alt-folk stars the Mountain Goats) was making with this novel. It made me angry. It left me confused and depressed. It gave precious few clues why protagonist Sean, debilitated by a "disfiguring injury" at age 17 (and loses himself in creating fantasy role playing games) does what he does, thinks what he thinks. I suppose
...more
Kevin
Oct 16, 2014 Kevin rated it liked it
A little confused by the overall reading experience with this one. I was pretty engaged all the way but ultimately felt like all the parts, all the shifting dark moods and small subplots, are not explored as deeply as I wanted them to be. A lot of great scenes but they still felt unmoored at the end.
Matt
Jun 11, 2014 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am loathe to write too much about Wolf in White Van. As much as any book I can recall, it's something I don't want to spoil in any fashion for potential readers. It's a stunner...a gem...a cosmic gut-punch.

And “spoiling” John Darnielle's* debut novel in any traditional sense isn't really possible. I would argue that while the “how-and-why” details of the story comprise the central narrative questions, the point of the book is the impossibility of answering them in any objective way. Like life
...more
Rebecca McNutt
Jan 09, 2017 Rebecca McNutt rated it really liked it
The strange front cover art drew me in first admittedly because usually books themed around a role-playing game don't interest me in the slightest, but there's a lot more to this book than it initially appears and it's well worth the read. The main character is as unique as the story itself.
Marc Kozak
Sep 18, 2014 Marc Kozak rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm driving from Chicago to St. Louis, falling southward on a six-hour stretch of a lonely highway, seeing nothing that leaves any lasting impression on the flat trip through countless fields that lead back to my hometown. I pass a slow moving truck, and then quickly weave around another vehicle that loiters absentmindedly in the fast lane. My mind activates, and I'm somewhere else. I'm the favorite to win a nationally televised, championship race in a make-believe sporting league of competitive ...more
Jeff
Oct 06, 2014 Jeff rated it really liked it
I wish that novels came with a warning label, or rather an indicator of the level of seriousness the reader should expect. I say this because just reading the summary of "Wolf" led me to believe this novel would be about an outcast who found solace in the things that outcasts usually do. Gaming, music, etc... And those themes are present and important here. But this book, this book . . . rare is the book that makes me want to immediately re-read it. I say that because I feel like I glossed over ...more
Jo Ann
Mar 21, 2015 Jo Ann rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, audio, 2015
I did finish it, but quite a few times I considered quitting. Only the fact that it was on the short side gave me motivation to continue.

First off the blurb is very misleading. I was under the impression I would be reading something scifi, on the order of Ready Player One, nope, not even close.

Secondly the whole story is basically inside one characters head. I'm a reader who doesn't enjoy stories that are heavy on introspection. Especially when the character has too much self over analyzing of
...more
Susan
May 12, 2016 Susan rated it it was ok
Don't waist your time. What a bunch of derelict characters. I thought maybe at some point this book would make a point. Not...just a group of selfish backward people.
John Lee
Jan 21, 2014 John Lee rated it liked it
John Darnielle is one of my favorite musicians and songwriters. His songs helped me get through college, and I can always listen to his work if I want something catchy, emotional, and more than most other music, powerful. When I heard he would be writing a book, I was ecstatic: my favorite works by him tell stories (see: Tallahassee), and most of his songs are about an individual or group and the trials and tribulations they face. I felt like a novel would be a perfect continuation of this skill ...more
Kevin
Sep 25, 2014 Kevin rated it liked it
I finished this days ago and haven't been able to figure out what I wanted to write as a review and now it's been too long, so I'm just gonna wing it:

Up until maybe the final 20 pages of this rather short book I was convinced that I was going to finish it, flip back to the first page, and read it again. I felt like there was this big swirling mass that was about to congeal and I wanted to go back and watch it all over again, see the tendrils creeping closer to the center, use my newly-acquired k
...more
Tally
Sep 11, 2014 Tally rated it liked it
3.5/5 stars

I'm torn on this one.

I really liked its quirky attributes, but I can't say that I enjoyed it in the same way I would enjoy most stories. Because it isn't most stories.

I had a hard time connecting with any of the characters. I didn't feel like there was much insight into their emotions or the reasoning behind their actions. At first, the dense and slightly jarring writing style caught me off guard, but once I got used to it I was able to appreciate the strength in John Darnielle's cere
...more
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John Darnielle (/dɑrˈniːl/, born March 16, 1967) is an American musician, best known as the primary (and often solitary) member of the American band the Mountain Goats, for which he is the writer, composer, guitarist, pianist and vocalist.

Source: Wikipedia.
More about John Darnielle...

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“This is why people cry at the movies: because everybody’s doomed. No one in a movie can help themselves in any way. Their fate has already staked its claim on them from the moment they appear onscreen.” 30 likes
“There are only two stories: either you go forward or you die.” 23 likes
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