Full disclosure: John Darnielle is one of my favorite living artists and the frontman of the incredibly prolific band The Mountain Goats. If you haven’t already listened to them, stop reading this and do that instead (I recommend something off Tallahassee or Transcendental Youth). That said, this novel stands on its own merit just fine. It’s by far the best book released in the last few years (that I’ve read), and it’s one of the best books I’ve read in 2014.
It’s a hard book to talk about without compromising its narrative integrity, but it deals with the power of imagination, the frenetic energy of youth, and the refuge of the creative process, giving full attention to both the joy in those things and their dangerous reciprocal. It’s a book about the intimate connections we make with the people around us without realizing it and it’s a book about fantasy games, Conan the Barbarian, God-and-Satan and the people who try to take a side in that.
It’s also the most emotionally affecting book I’ve read in years. As redemptive as it is, Darnielle goes to some dark places that are made all the more unsettling by their believability. He finds beautiful truth in the most overlooked aspects of the way human beings treat each other and also illuminates the parts of myself that I don’t want to look at or remember. Recommended, as highly as possible. If you read no other fiction this year, read this.