John dies at the end

John dies at the end / David Wong. Originally published 2007.

John dies at the end is one of those books I randomly picked up because the Kindle version was on sale and I was looking for something new. It’s an irreverent horror novel and was adapted into a moderately well received film.

Brief plot description

(Spoiler free)

David Wong is a 20-something slacker living in an anonymous midwestern college town (implied by the film version to be Champaign-Urbana, but more ambiguous in the book). After a bizarre experience at a party involving a mysterious drug called “Soy Sauce”, he and his friends end up on a wild adventure involving talking meat products, celebrity exorcists, and a demon-like creature known as “Shitload”.

So how is it?

John dies at the end is intentionally obnoxious, so if that’s your kind of thing then it’s great. David Wong is an unreliable narrator par excellence, and the book flies from absurd set-piece to absurd set-piece.

It’s not a perfect book. It was originally issued serially online, and the seams of that construction still show. The frame story, where David tells a reporter about his adventures, helps to patch this over to some extent, but it’s still noticeable.

David Wong , in addition to being the author of the novel and the main character, is an editor for Cracked, as is the real-life counterpart to the fictional John Cheese. Combined with David’s self-admitted status as unreliable narrator, this blurs the lines between the “true” story as experienced by the characters in the novel, the story as reported by David, and the real-world personae of David Wong and John Cheese. It’s more-or-less clear that David is intentionally fabricating or obfuscating some elements of the story, both to make himself  and his friends look better and to protect their anonymity.

John dies at the end revels in absurdity and gross-out humor. In the introduction to the 2012 edition, the author describes the book as a “howling literary dong-tornado”. Feces, exploding heads, and male genitalia run rampant. John himself is particularly irreverent, creating an elaborate verbal code so that anyone bugging his phone won’t know what his true plans are. His code, however, seems unlikely to be successful. For example, the phrase “Tomorrow is the day we kill the president” is code for “stop and pick up cigarettes on your way over”.

John dies at the end reads like a combination of video game and nightmare (at one point, the bodies of the monsters killed by the heroes dissolve and leave behind keys and ammunition). It’s an ADHD thrill ride enhanced by the way it satirizes TV police procedurals, video games, and especially the horror genre. It’s an MTV H.P. Lovecraft, and well worth checking out.

Strengths:

It’s a literary Mountain Dew commercial: it’s absurd and juvenile and constantly rockets from idea to idea

Features some of the most original monsters in recent memory

Hits all the main horror tropes so hard they may never recover, from ghost stories to body horror

Simultaneously hilarious and frightening

Weaknesses:

It’s so over the top that the top isn’t even visible from where it is

The humor is un-selfconsciously immature

Recommendation:

I’ve recommended John dies at the end several times, with varying results. Not to make age-based generalizations, but people over the age of 45 haven’t enjoyed this one as much as younger readers. It’s not for everyone, but it is a great book to recommend to people who don’t like to read or who have trouble getting through an entire novel. It’s practically a must read for fans of Cracked, Collegehumor, or whatever other frat-type humor outlet you can think of.

It’s not exactly a book for people seeking a profoundly meaningful reading experience. While there is more depth than one might expect from what I’ve written above, it’s a secondary focus to the silly adventure story. A traumatic experience from David’s childhood and his relationships with the other characters  give the work real emotional depth, but not to the extent that it will deter anyone not interested in that aspect of the story.

Other books for people who enjoyed this one:

This book is full of spiders / David Wong (the sequel to John dies at the end, it’s a little less “zany” but still a great read)
Gun machine / Warren Ellis
Sandman Slim / Richard Kadrey

 

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