Long-listed for the 2014 National Book Award in fiction
Winner of the 2015 Alex Award for adult books with special appeal for young adultsWelcome 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 seventeen, 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 real and the imagined. As the creator of Trace Italian—a text-based, role-playing game played through the mail—Sean guides players from around the world through his intricately imagined terrain, which they navigate and explore, turn by turn, seeking sanctuary in a ravaged, savage future America.
Lance and Carrie are high school students from Florida, explorers of the Trace. But when they take their play into the real world, disaster strikes, and Sean is called to account for it. In the process, he is pulled back through time, tunneling toward the moment of his own self-inflicted departure from the world in which most people live.
Brilliantly constructed, Wolf in White Van unfolds in reverse until we arrive at both the beginning and the climax: the event that has shaped so much of Sean's life. Beautifully written and unexpectedly moving, John Darnielle's audacious and gripping debut novel is a marvel of storytelling brio and genuine literary delicacy.
In his incantatory debut, Darnielle (of the indie band the Mountain Goats) captures the allure and danger of being in thrall to a mythic vision. Lying in the hospital recovering from a gruesome wound, Sean conceives of a mail-based strategy game in a "fury of assembly," building out an "idle little dream in a small dead space." In the game's scenario, players head across an apocalyptic landscape in search of sanctuary at the Trace Italian, a star-shaped fort on the "wasted Kansas plain." With each successive choice, players find themselves further along a "path than can belong only to them." Darnielle doles out just enough information about the game to give it texture without stripping it of its mystery. The appeal lies in decoding the landscape, scanning for "little details" that reveal a larger pattern and might eventually allow players to figure out the impenetrable safe harbor. When one young couple's attempt to find the Trace Italian in real life leads them to a fatal "terminus" in the desert, Sean revisits his own dark history. He tracks back through the branching series of choices that led to his disfiguring injury, the creation of the game, and the couple's tragic end. Through it all the Trace looms, a monumental symbol for a supple novel.
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Last night when I finished this I rated it a 2, tonight it's a 4. I don't know what to tell you. You should probably read this book.
I kept waiting for the story to get better. It had such potential. But it just rambles with no thickness to the plot to grab onto. Don't waste your time. Don't waste your money. It's not worth either.
This guy has a way with words. I’ll be re-reading this soon.