So if you read Wolf in White Van the strange dreamlike narration that this novel closes with will not be a surprise. Throughout most of the book, we have a third person narrator who is more or less omniscient in perspective, but as the “mystery” at the center closes in the focus tightens, and we close with a first person narration that circles around more knowingly.
See what I did there? I kind of said a lot knowing what I meant, but not really explaining to you the information you needed to fully make sense of it. That’s kind of what this novel does.
The basic story is about a video store clerk in a small town in western Iowa who starts getting complaints that someone has been inserting small vignettes into the middle of various movies. At first, it feels like maybe we’re about to get a Ring or Blair Witch kind of thing going on, but its different clearly. For one, this is a world in which Blair Witch and The Ring exist, so it would be a little weird. In fact, the book mentions BWP, so it’s almost as if, not that John Darnielle is aware of the connection, but the person doing the thing is.
As the novel progresses, the mystery starts to unfold a little and so the story becomes a lot less The Ring and a lot more Broken Flowers in its tone.
But more than anything this novel takes place pretty much concurrent with my growing up. I am younger than John Darnielle, but I am about the same age of the protagonist. I spent a LOT of time in video stores renting whatever I thought might work and getting something very out of the physical limitations of possessing a borrowed video tape. Also, there’s this strange era of the internet that anybody under 25 cannot possibly conceive of, where the desire for information and access and speed greatly outpaced the availability. This is pre-wifi essentially (more or less, but not 100%) but in that way where the potential for all that info existed but we were still drawn to this slightly dying older version of things.
The book though….I feel like I mostly liked it, but can’t tell if I feel satisfied by it.