My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Through the text-based RPG of Trace Italian, some clouded memories, and his lonely day-to-day routine, Sean Phillips walks us through worlds both imaginary and horrifyingly real while climbing in reverse to the climax of his personal journey. This climax is the beginning of a new chapter in Sean’s young life, but it serves as the end to our journey with him.
I have absolutely tried so hard to carefully construct this review so as to get my true point across. I did not hate the book in the least bit. In fact, I enjoyed reading it and appreciate Darnielle’s writing style. I thought it was quick, interestingly constructed, unique because of this construction, thought-provoking, and somewhat inspiring despite being slightly depressing. However, I also had a hard time relating to the protagonist, and maybe that’s because he was such a loner, but I honestly felt like he would be someone that would be hard to be friends with even without drastic facial reconstruction. I also hated his parents, and I thought they were extremely selfish after his accident. If there was an antagonist in this book, it would be them. Another thing that got to me was Trace Italian’s success after the expansion of the Internet. Sean’s character never really shared any details about just how many people played his game, and I can appreciate the escape a game like that can bring, but I thought handwritten letters back and forth between him and his customers was a bit far-fetched when email would have been so much easier. He could have easily reconstructed Trace Italian so that it would be more hip with the times, but he was stuck on the idea of the mail-in only game to the point where he even defended it within the novel.
I felt like a 3-star rating suggested I didn’t enjoy the book, which is why I bumped my rating up to four stars. This is where I realize the rating system is flawed. I’m even tempted to protest for half-stars, and I feel as though I’m not alone in this. After much internal debate, I decided to mentally give Wolf in White Van 3.5 stars, although here on Goodreads it looks like 4/5. Even half stars wouldn’t help me get my point across about this book, though. Looking at all the different reviews and ratings, I can fully understand why someone would give it one star and why another would give it five. That’s rare for me. It almost makes me believe the author wanted that type of reaction. As if he wanted readers to understand his book is not for everyone. I can respect that, and the mixed reviews were one major reason I was so intrigued to start this novel. 3.5 stars in no way means I didn’t enjoy the book for what it was. I feel that I didn’t love or hate it, though, and 3.5 feels fair.
Back to the book itself, we know for a long time what is going to happen at the end, or beginning rather, of his story. Even though my heart was beating faster the closer I got to the edge, when the moment of climax occurred, I wasn’t moved. I read the last paragraph three different times, even though I knew what was going to happen way before I got there. This wasn’t like a, “Ha, I figured out what happened first!” but more of a, “Yeah, that’s what you’ve been telling us would happen for about 100 pages, John.”
I wanted to know why Sean did what he did to alter his lifestyle in such a way. He walks us through the process that occurs before the big moment, but he never really hints on what made him want to do it. Did he just want to leave us wondering and trying to make sense of it forever? If his goal was to get us to reread it from beginning to end to try and figure it out, I’m sure he has a pretty successful rate. I won’t be reading it again, though.
Goodreads rating: 3.77
Recommended for: Gamers, Introspective Readers, Those who like to read things backwards
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