I think it’s human nature to want to identify with a story teller. They’re sharing an experience with you and you want to see it from their point of view. That’s part of the fun, to step outside yourself and see things a different way.
But as much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t identify with Sean, the protagonist of Wolf in White Van.
Hell, Sean can’t even identify with himself.
“Whoever Sean is, it’s not who I think he is; all the details I think I know about things are lies,” he says at one point.
At another: “I sift and rake and dig around in my vivid recollections of young Sean… I try to see what makes him tick, but I know a secret about young Sean… nothing makes him tick. It just happens all by itself…”
Indeed, Sean’s inner-workings – his motives, his goals, his dreams, his fears… – are virtually impossible to reach. It’s as if they’re locked deep within a fortress, in a distant wasteland, guarded by warlords and radioactive fallout.
Just trying to access that fortress is a hazard in and of itself – hazard, upon hazard, upon hazard.
Just like Trace Italian.
Trace Italian is a game Sean invented. It’s a fictional fortress located in Kansas, the last remaining refuge in a world ravaged by nuclear war. The objective is to simply get there, to penetrate the citadel and find safety in its inner-sanctum.
Sean is something like the Dungeon Master in D&D. He sets players on a path and sends them four options by mail. The players respond with their move, and Sean sends back the consequences of that move, along with four more options. And so the game goes… on until the player gives up.
No one ever reaches the Trace Italian, and rarely do they die. They simply wander through its labrynthian coil, a spiral that never reaches its center.
You can spend hours, days, or even years trying to get there it, but it’s virtually guaranteed that you won’t. It’s an indecipherable code, like the book’s name.
That is, the book title is a reference to a song by Larry Norman called “666”. When you play the song backwards, it sounds like “Wolf in White Van.”
A guest on the 700 club might say this is a Satanic message, but really, it’s a phrase that raises more questions than answers.
What exactly does it mean? Why no article, ‘the’ or ‘a’? Is the wolf locked in the back of the van or riding shotgun? Is it driving?
Like Sean’s narrative, it’s ultimately enigmatic.
Sean doesn’t know why he does the things that he does, and you won’t either.
That’s not really the point, though.
Like fighting your way to the Trace, it’s more about the journey than the destination. It’s a walking tour of a tortured wasteland, a dark and dangerous land patrolled by mutants.
At one point, a long time ago, there was a fortune teller that might have been able to help you navigate the terrain. But he’s dead now. So the best you can do is rummage through his remnants – a few vague artifacts and the key to a door you’ll never find.
Or as Sean puts it…
“There’s power in thinking you’re about to meet somebody who knows what’s next for you, and there’s another level of power in seeing that person’s body on the floor, having to get the information from him somehow now that he’s no longer in any condition to give it.”