Wolf in White Van
by John Darnielle
2014, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
After reading a pre-release review of this novel, I had to preorder it. When it arrived, I read the whole thing that same day and then sat down to write this review. That alone should suggest how highly I recommend this book. If you’d like to skip the rest of the review, then: just read this book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. This is a book that will stick with the reader, and it’s deep enough that everyone will take away something a little different. I know it will be in my mind for a long time.
Wolf in White Van, written by The Mountain Goats songwriter John Darnielle, has already been favorably reviewed online, featured on NPR, and been nominated for the National Book Award. All the praise is well deserved. On the surface this is a story about Sean–the survivor of a terrible teenage tragedy, currently the game master of a play-by-mail role-playing game–and his reflections on life and the game. At its heart, it is a story about the power of imagination, about coming of age in a time when being a geek was far from cool, and about dealing with life-changing and traumatic experiences.
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The Oregon Experiment
by Keith Scribner
Recommended? Sure, why not.
I’m going to cut this review into two parts. The first part, the shorter part, is just my “why you might like to read this book, why you might not.” The second part is a longer analysis of the ways in which mainstream sympathetic fiction is portraying anarchists.
So, The Oregon Experiment, by Keith Scribner. Scanlon and Naomi are a middle class couple that moves to small town Oregon, and soon their American dream crashes into the rocks of anarchists, secessionist hippies, and the repression thereof. Scanlon is an academic who studies radical social movements, Naomi is a depressed “nose” who was forced to retire from the perfume business when her mental health destroyed her ability to smell. Scanlon gets mixed up with Sequoia, a sexy hippie mama who wants to peacefully secede from the US, while Naomi spends too much time a Clay, a depressed, angsty anarchist who hates everything. Hijinks ensue.
It’s a short, entertaining novel with interesting enough characters. I read it, I enjoyed reading it, and it left me awake thinking after I’d put the book down for the night. While the plot focuses on the gulf between academia and radical action, the themes of the book are much more about parenting and relationships, which I appreciated quite a bit. I appreciated the often-realistic and incredibly flawed characters, though the intensity of male desire directed at mothers—on the basis of them being mothers—is kind of intense. Overall, the book made me nostalgic for early-aughts Oregon.
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