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'Wolf in White Van' By Mountain Goats' John Darnielle Is Possibly The Best Novel of the Year

By Jaclyn Bauer in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 7, 2014 3:00PM

2014_09_Darnielle.jpg John Darnielle, singer-songwriter of the Mountain Goats is releasing his first novel, Wolf in White Van, on Sept. 16, 2014. A combustion of literary ingenuity and melodic narrative, Wolf in White Van is a philosophically charged work of genius.

The narrator, Sean Phillips, recounts his story in reverse, revealing the darkness of his past and present life in rationed telling. From the outset, the reader knows that Sean is disfigured from an “accident” that he “did” to himself in his youth; however, the details of the incident are not made clear all at once. Like a mystery novel, or an RPG video game with an intense plotline, Sean’s story plays itself out with the turning of each page, culminating to reveal the whole of the story only on the final folio.

Sean is the writer and developer of Trace Italian, a role playing game that is experienced via snail-mail. A gamer is sent a prompt in which a scene in an apocalyptic future is described to her. She is then given four options as to what her next move can be. She must chose one move and mail her response back to Sean. She is then sent a new prompt based on her choice. Players continue to navigate Sean’s world via these four simple choices at the bottom of each page, and Sean continues to develop relationships with and stories about his players through the words and moves they return to him.

Sean is a lonely genius, with a wildly diverse inner dialogue vacillating between the uber humane and the utterly depressed. Darnielle poignantly breaks down barriers of labels and absolutes with the versatility of his characters, namely Sean. Even if he is “depressed” or “disturbed” Sean is human, and the reader is permeated with his humanity. Despite his twisted, dark imagination, thoughts and sometimes actions, there is a light of joy, compassion and pureness about Sean that Darnielle is able to access and express.

A novel of insight and intrigue, Darnielle does not shy away from difficult topics and perverse subject matter. Nothing is taboo and every shadow is brilliantly illuminated in Darnielle’s emotionally turbulent first novel.

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the book and its author will be touring the country and visiting independent bookstores in order to promote the work of art.

In conjunction with Unabridged Bookstore, Darnielle will be at Lincoln Hall on Oct. 7, 2014 to discuss his novel with Mairead Case, columnist for BookSlut. Check out the rest of Darnielle's book tour dates to see when he's coming to your city.