I will admit at the onset that I am going to have a difficult
time fully explaining to you what JOHN DIES AT THE END is all
about. The book first saw life as a limited distribution work that
acquired fame through word of mouth. The Thomas Dunne edition is
its first hardcover, fully distributed publication; by the time you
finish reading it, you will wonder why folks aren’t lined up
around the block to buy a copy. It reads a bit like a road trip
mash-up written by Philip K. Dick and Hunter S. Thompson
with an arguably steadier hand at the creative wheel.
That steady hand belongs to author David Wong, a
pseudonym for Jason Pargin, an online humorist who edits
Cracked.com. JOHN DIES AT THE END is funny in spots, but it
is also frightening. There are elements of horror, sci-fi, fantasy,
thriller and adventure thrown in (with a dash of romance), but at
the end of the day, it stands as a purely great and addicting
David Wong is also one of the book’s characters and its
narrator. David and his friend, John, are a couple of
burnouts, a step or two above Jay and Silent Bob on the
evolutionary scale by virtue of the fact that they are
capable (barely) of holding down jobs as video store clerks. They
also play in a rock band, which leads to their troubles when they
meet a faux Rastafarian with a drug called soy sauce. The
lads ingest it --- John intentionally, David by accident ---
causing all hell to break loose. Literally.
While soy sauce will take you across time and space, it also
turns you inside out and over to some of the most frightening
creatures you have ever encountered --- beings that are bent on
taking over our world. Initially, one can’t tell if they are
real or just the byproduct of a drug-induced fantasy, but there is
a very telling and frightening vignette (one of several such
occurring every page or two) whereby John demonstrates the presence
of these monsters to a skeptical reporter (and, subsequently, the
reader). And all that is standing between these disgusting
creatures and our world is John and David along with a few other
folks (including Jennifer Lopez...seriously).
Bet on the creatures.
You can (and will want to) read JOHN DIES AT THE END in one
sitting. But I would recommend setting aside a few days to digest
all of the wonderful things that Wong/Pargin creates and presents
while somehow keeping the chaos of the book moving along in an
orderly, coherent manner. I know that sounds strange, but reading
this novel is like observing a station wagon full of kids driving
down the street. None of the little urchins are in a car seat or
restraint, and they’re bouncing out of sight in the backseat
and then reappearing in the front or hanging out of the windows.
Meanwhile, their mom is at the wheel chattering away on her cell
phone, unaware of how close she is to disaster, yet she somehow
manages to get the car and its passengers into a parking space at
the local supermarket without being involved in an accident.
If you’ve seen something like that, then you are prepared
to read JOHN DIES AT THE END. It is full of madness, insanity and
hallucinations that are compellingly described. And I’ve only
scratched the surface of what is contained in this book, which is
even more addicting than the drug it talks about.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011