Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wolf in White Van

When I heard John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats had a novel coming out, there was no question in my mind that I'd be gobbling it up as soon as I got my hands on it. Darnielle writes the most visceral lyrics I've ever heard, with a knack for cutting right to the pain, whether emotional or physical, in just a line or two. I got what I expected from Wolf in White Van's prose by the second paragraph:

"Every other day they'd bathe me, and every time, I'd feel like it wasn't so bad for a few minutes; and then the heat would slacken the resewn flaps of my cheeks a little, and the tingling would start up, a rippling alarm traveling down confused wires."

If you figure the paragraph which precedes that one explains what's led up to that point of the narrator's life, you're no expert figurer. Answers come in time, but not all of them. There are a couple of things going on here. The telling leaps all over the story's timeline and it's meant to be disorienting. There are times the reader isn't quite sure when an event is happening or which of the other narrative strands it might be connected to. We're left to attach the pieces with little reference, perhaps echoing the reassembly of the narrator and his life after the accident that is central to the story. And centers are important here.

A little Robert Frost:

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

There are many unknowable centers in the book, from the imaginary fortress which sits right in the middle of the country and is the unachievable goal of the narrator's play-by-mail game, Trace Italian; to his motivation for the central act of the novel, which may be unknown even to him; to the unspoken feelings of so many of the characters.

It's the search for what lies in those centers that drive us on through the book and drive the characters through their inner turmoil. The answers at the core of everything are cloaked in many layers of protection, the innermost wrapping being the hardest and most inviting of them all: the apprehension of the seeker. Darnielle lays out the story so we can see the ending coming, and it's probably for this reason the last ten pages of Wolf in White Van filled me with dread.

Take a look for yourself:

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