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“John Dies at the End” Book Review


Hey guys! I finished a book! Do you understand how rare that is? I think I deserve a pizza party. With an ice cream cake. Ooh, and funny hats. You know what, let’s get our bacchanal on, bitches.

Wait, wait. I suppose this post wouldn’t be a review without an actual discussion of the book. Let’s talk about John Dies at the End. I guess the party motif goes great with this review, since I enjoyed the book so much.

Narrated by David Wong (the fictitious version of real life Jason Pargin, a senior editor), John Dies at the End involves Wong’s involvement in strange inter-universe shenanigans. Along for the ride is John, David’s best friend and partner in crime (literally and figuratively – there’s a hint of murder and robbery).

Said ride involves creative trans-dimensional anthropomorphic drugs and the otherworldly creatures the drug allows the duo to see. Basically, they now get to see the monsters normal people aren’t privy to. This comes with a load of responsibility of the universe-saving type.

The execution of this premise is kind of odd. Instead of one single narrative, the novel is broken up into three separate adventures. They each present pieces of a puzzle that I didn’t even realize was a puzzle until the end of the novel, when everything comes together.

Things like shadow men, people with masks seemingly fused to their faces, talking dogs, and dry land jellyfish that molest inanimate objects drift in and out of the story, apparently at random.*

(*Examples of the bat-shit insanity the characters face daily can be seen in the trailer for the far-inferior movie version of the book.)

Throughout the novel, I just kind of assumed that the crazy shit going down was a byproduct of the universe Pargin created being a crazy, messed up place. However, the final chapters tie everything up in a haphazard little knot.

This makes for a seemingly rushed climax (ironic, since it’s then followed by an overly long epilogue). I almost would have preferred for things to be a little more open-ended, but overall it doesn’t hurt the book, since David and John are such great characters.

David is just trying to live a normal, unambitious, quiet existence, right up until he takes the “soy sauce,” which allows him to see what he’s really dealing with in life.

He plays the straight man to John’s wacky, dick-obsessed asshole character, but David’s still pretty crazy in his own right (spoilers), so it makes for an interesting dynamic.

Outside of those two, most of the characters are pretty much two-dimensional, except for Amy Sullivan, a fresh spin on the girl-next-door trope, who ends up requiring the duo’s help toward the end of the book.

Similar to my Iron Man 3 review, I’m presented with a battle of characterization vs. plot: While the characters almost instantly won me over, the way the actual events that transpired gel at the end leaves something to be desired.

However, the bad guys (I’m not even sure I can call them that) are incredibly original. With that in mind – and the fact that all the little zany moments that don’t necessarily work as a whole were entertaining as hell in the moment – I can’t help but be insanely impressed by this book.

This type of work is definitely the best-case scenario when an editor for a humor magazine moves beyond 1,000 word articles.

four stars