This one is a bit tricky to summarise. I think I’ll just let it do it itself.
‘My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours.
You may not want to know about the things you’ll read on these pages, about the sauce, about Korrock, about the invasion, and the future. But it’s too late. You touched the book. You’re in the game. You’re under the eye.
The only defense is knowledge. You need to read this book, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.’
Nothing encourages me to read a book like one that threatens me with consequences if I don’t. John Dies @ The End by David Wong (pseudonym of Jason Pargin) is a freakish cult phenomenon that I came across entirely by accident a couple years ago when I was buying a last minute book for my long train ride home from university for the summer.
I think it’s important to note at the top of this review that I don’t read horror. I get scared easily. I don’t like it. That said, John Dies @ The End is one of my favourite books ever. So. People contain multitudes.
Technically I think you would probably call David Wong’s work comedy horror, but something about that classification makes me uncomfortable, because I feel like it diminishes the book somehow. It’s not comedy horror like Sean of the Dead (literally my only other reference point because I don’t like horror not even funny horror). It’s more absurdist than that. In other reviews, a lot of writers have compared him to Douglas Adams (but with way more gory death, obviously) but that comparison doesn’t really work for me either.
Honestly, at least so far as my own reading is concerned, John Dies @ The End is totally unique.
(I’ll just let that statement settle for a moment).
This book occupies a very special place in my heart I have thus far been unable to adequately explain to anyone. Today I’ll give it my best try.
Reading this book is a visceral experience. I really mean that. You will cringe and be grossed out so hard I would actually say you should leave a decent gap between reading and eating. At least on the first couple times through it. I just read it for the fourth or fifth time so my tolerance is pretty high.
David Wong seamlessly works through the truly haunting and the absurd, the freaking hilarious and the deeply sincere – sometimes all on the same page. To read this book is to be perpetually off balance. It’s thrilling and frightening. The experience is to constantly ask yourself what could possibly happen next? And then there’s the underlying doubt that David might just be a crazy person. He admits that he occasionally makes up a few details. As your get further into the book it gets ever more apparent when he’s doing it (although I might just think that because I’ve read it so many times).
Ultimately though, I believe David. I don’t think anyone could read this book thinking that he was just a guy who’s done way too many drugs (although he might be that, too). Remember I mentioned the sincerity in this book? Yeah? Well, that’s all David. Nobody writes about self-loathing like David Wong. It permeates his every action. Usually, I think, books like this are concerned with taking action that, secondarily most of the time, has the effect of taking down people’s deep insecurities. People who save the world usually feel pretty good about themselves by the end of the book. Not David.
I want to make clear, as well, that this is not in any way annoying to read. David isn’t just a guy feeling sorry for himself. He’s had some truly awful experiences – some of which he will never ever tell us about, others, we witnessed with him – and as a result he’s come to see the world in a very black and white way. There’s good and bad, and he knows which side he falls on (spoiler alert: it’s not good). David suffers with a lot of suicidal ideation throughout the story.
He survives because of his friends, John, of the title and Amy, who is central to everything but doesn’t really appear until the second half of the book. I LOVE this choice. John Dies @ The End is pretty long, and seeing David alone for so much of it before introducing Amy, the girl he falls in love with, is so effective. I want to take this book and slap every writer who ever went down the instalove route over the head with it. John and Amy are a part of the horror, but they somehow manage to remain separate from it. It doesn’t engulf them the way that it does David.
John is the comic relief. He’s the guy who spent his youth watching a lot of movies and is not-so-secretly thrilled that he finally gets to be the hero in his own horror story. He also really wants you to know about the size of his penis.
(supposedly it’s big).
Amy managed to avoid the horror once, when it took her brother. A year or so later and in the second half of the book, it comes back for her. With it come John and David.
Amy is a lonely girl. She lost her parents and her left hand to a car accident a few years previously. Then her brother died under circumstances that were as mysterious as they were horrifying. As a result, she’s become a resilient young woman and I love her. She and David complement each other in every way. I don’t even care that her optimism being drawn to David’s despair is kind of a cliché because it’s awesome.
Amy is a girl who knows what she wants. She’s not afraid to take control of her own path even when doing so puts her in harm’s way. She pushes David in the right direction (i.e. one where he doesn’t kill himself).
She also kind of ruins his life because it’s a lot easier to fight an unknown evil when you don’t care about anyone, least of all yourself.
It’s not very interesting, though.
Honestly, John Dies @ The End has everything, as far as I’m concerned. It’s unique, adventurous, romantic, depressing, hilarious, horrifying and sincere. It’s like nothing you’ve ever read before.
If you’ve read through to this point I recommend looking the book up on Amazon. Go to ‘look inside’ and read the first page of the prologue. Depending on how you feel after, you’ll know whether or not this book is for you.