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  • kjoannerixon

Wolf in White Van

Wolf in White Van is a fantastic, powerful look at the human urge to tell ourselves stories about ourselves and about our place in the world. On one side of that urge is a powerful understanding of motive and possibility and the ways that the stories we tell make it possible for us to navigate a complicated world. On the other side of it, an assignation of meaning and design that doesn't actually exist, that swirls us into a kind of delirium.

There's a reason Darnielle's music with The Mountain Goats is so beloved: he has insight into the underbelly of the experiences of modern life that is rare and precious. He's best as a lyricist and a storyteller, and his prose, his turns of phrase and timing and explanations of the things beyond what we see--it's all so good. I loved this book on its literary merits!

Now for my almost-a-critique: in a way that reminds me a lot of Palahniuk, Darnielle uses disability, mental illness and disfigurement as a way of manifesting spiritual grotesqueries. The Word made flesh; I'm certain he's doing this on purpose. With a disabled protagonist and a plot that revolves around disability without falling into the common pitfalls, this book is proto-disability literature, maybe more. Does it make it into the canon, for me? Darnielle himself isn't disabled, and in his music, disability is so symbolic, so meaningful, that it's never really real. But here...

I can't decide how I feel about it. This is unlikely to make my judgement any clearer, but here, there are two ways I feel about the ending of the book. 1) I'm furious that I don't see Sean carrying on in his life, changed as a person but still disabled. We just get the revelation of the moment of injury, which is, like...a different kind of story entirely. 2) I'm delighted that the arbitrary, unpredictable nature of the world--the essential meaninglessness, in spite of all the meaning Sean tries to assign to every single thing, shines through.

And I'm glad that the story of his injury, and the details of his disability throughout the book, aren't sensationalized or played up for horror. Bodies feel pain, bodies leak and smell, and after a while living like that you process your feelings about it and are fine, even with really end-of-the-Bell-curve situations.

Anyway, this review is a non-linear mess, but hey, it's a non-linear book, and tbh all you need to know is that you should read it. And you should listen to the Mountain Goats.


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