Book of the Month: November 2014


Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van was long-listed for the National Book Award and yet it sat for months on my stack of to-read books. Although it piqued my interest, something kept me from picking it up. After several authors at the Beverly Hills Literary Escape told me I was missing something brilliant and unique, I consumed it in 48 hours. They were right and I feel that the adventurous Literary Affairs book clubs need to read and discuss this slight-but-deep novel.

Wolf in White Van poignantly explores the search for meaning in life, a search that begins in the pain and angst of adolescence. Darnielle — through the first person narrative of Sean Phillips — tells the universal story of how we all live in alternative realities, the real world and the world inside our heads. Sean says, “I’d had an idle little dream in a small dead space, and the dream was now alive and hungry inside me.” Like all of the role-playing games that kids have been playing since cowboys & indians with sticks, we are acting out our own choices. The book ultimately tells us that there are only two stories: either you go forward or you die. Go forward and read our pick for November 2014 Book of the Month, Wolf in White Van.


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 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.


John Darnielle is a writer, composer, guitarist, and vocalist for the band the Mountain Goats; he is widely considered one of the best lyricists of his generation. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife and son.

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