Book Review: JOHN DIES AT THE END

Good morning and welcome back to my life!

Today we’re going to talk a little about a book I finished this weekend, JOHN DIES AT THE END by David Wong (pseudonym of Jason Pargin).

This book has one of the best opening scenes I’ve ever read. It’s violent, funny, and perfectly introduces the voice of the narrator. Added bonus: it seems like a non-sequitur once we begin the actual plot, but the snippet turns out to be thematically important by the end of the book.

The narrator and the other main characters were my favorite parts of this book. It’s not often I read a book–particularly a genre book–about people who are so aggressively and recognizably normal. David, John, Jennifer, and Amy are all people who exist in all of our lives, in high school, in college, and beyond. Their dialogue and reactions are genuine, which grounds the otherwise fantastical and often loopy narrative.

That said, I honestly have to say I enjoyed the first third of the book more than the rest. At the half-way point, it starts to meander and by 3/4 of the way through it becomes nearly incomprehensible. It does clean up and focus in a bit by the end quarter, but by then I’d lost interest and just wanted to finish it. Turns out the author originally published it as a web serial, and it shows. In small installments, the different ‘stories’ that make up Parts II and III would probably be understandable, but as a 400-page tome they veer into in tangled chaos. That said, the humor and suspense thread throughout, providing ample laughs and scares, though the most sophisticated humor is definitely in the first half of the book.

I also had a hard time pinning down where this book intended to land. Was it sci fi? Horror? Paranormal? There were demons and ghosts (maybe), but then there were also aliens and parallel worlds? Confusion.

And then it occurred to me–the back of the book describes it as “Douglas Addams meets Stephen King”, but I’ve got one better.

It’s Rocky Horror! No really, this book is like Rocky Horror meets Ghostbusters. It is a bizarre genre-mash that begs to be adapted into a fake-blood-filled B-movie. And, as the case would be, that very thing came to pass in 2012. I don’t think I’ll be watching it, as I’ve no love for violent movies, and barely tolerated the second half of Rocky Horror for the song-filled drug-trip it is. But if that’s your thing, JOHN DIES AT THE END will be a fun, irreverent, gory romp through the fever dreams of a one-time bored data-entry clerk who found the internet and thought “You know what this needs? Women exploding into snakes.”

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