Fans of American indie stalwarts The Mountain Goats already know that frontman John Darnielle is one of that country’s finest lyricists, unfolding songs that more often play like short stories with poetic economy and an empathetic eye over the course of 14 albums since the mid-1990s. It should come as no surprise then, but a pleasant revelation all the same, to discover that Darnielle has written a novel, entitled Wolf in White Van, which will be published in October by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the USA and Harper Collins in Canada.
Writing on FSG’s Work in Progress blog, Darnielle’s editor Sean McDonald relays few details about the plot, choosing instead to focus on elements of the book that should quicken the pulse of anyone who treasures The Mountain Goats’ extant discography:
There are many things worth singling out for praise in Wolf in White Van: the unforgettable main character, Sean Phillips, who has been isolated by a disfiguring injury since age seventeen; Trace Italian, the intricate game within the novel that Sean created and runs; the interplay of real and imagined worlds, which is both complex and heartbreaking; the structure of the storytelling—audacious, brilliant, and never anything but convincing and unreasonably suspenseful; the prose itself, which is precise and beautiful and (forgive me) lyrical. But the greatest and perhaps most unexpected satisfaction is the quality that encompasses all these things, that this is simply a magnificent novel, weird and dark and wonderful, adventurous and spellbinding in the way of any great piece of literary art.
McDonald also includes an endorsement from Daniel Handler, the erstwhile Lemony Snicket, who says ‘John Darnielle’s novel moves through the mind like a dark-windowed car through a sleepy neighborhood, quiet, mysterious, menacing, taking you places you will never, never get out of your head.’
Besides his work with The Mountain Goats, Darnielle has already accrued strong literary ties: he writes a monthly column for metal magazine Decibel, is a previous guest editor of the poetry section of Oxford and Cambridge’s annual Mays anthology and in 2008 wrote on Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality for the 33 1/3 series of music books. He is a prolific, funny, eloquent tweeter and has seen a campaign formed suggesting that he be made Poet Laureate of the United States. In other words, this isn’t some dilettantish dabbling from someone who just happens to have a foot in the door, and we should all be very excited.
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.