John Dies At The End (****) has been existing at the fringes of my cultural awareness for a couple years now. I would hear rumblings about it from an old college pal, then my good buddy Nathan posted on his blog about the book and his adventures in acquiring a copy, and I knew I had to read it. Eventually, at least. When I could find a copy (I was libraryless, at the time). I kind of forgot about it then, as it faded into the harsh background of all the other things I’ve been meaning to read when I get the time. Nevertheless, I recently found myself at the library browsing their shelves (a dangerous habit I can’t seem to shake) and ran across not only John Dies At The End but the sequel as well, This Book Is Full Of Spiders (Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It). This gave me the kick in the pants I needed to check it out and read it, and I have to say that I am very glad that I did.
John Dies At The End began its life as an internet serial adventure, the author posting a chapter at a time and growing by word-of-mouth until it seemed like the entire internet had read it. It was so popular that a publisher approached him about doing a print run, and soon the book you see before you appeared on shelves. The credited author, David Wong, is actually the main character of the novel. The real author, Jason Pargin, currently works as the editor-in-chief of Cracked.com, which should tell you everything you need to know about the content advisory I’ll be adding below.
Dave and John are probably not the guys you want to be depending on when the time comes to save the world. Both are outcasts, underacheivers and slackers either stuck in dead-end jobs or floating from one short-term opportunity to another. The kind of characters you would find in a Kevin Smith movie, with about the same amount of profanity. John has embraced this, living life to the fullest and, as he would put it, just generally not giving a #### what anybody else thinks. Dave, the protagonist and narrator, has a bit more trouble. He’s got some issues in his past, some violence commited in high school when he took a knife to school, blinding a bully who (reading between the lines) may have raped him in the locker room after gym. His life isn’t going particularly well, but at the same time it’s not exactly a train wreck. Then one night at a party Dave encounters this crazy black dude (his words, not mine) who seems to be tripping hard, claims to be magic, and can accurately tell him what he had dreamed the night before. He claims to be named Robert Marley, and has sufficiently impressed John, John’s band “Three Armed Sally,” and a bevy of partially-inebriated female partygoers to entice them back to his trailer after the party. Not Dave, he has to work an early shift the next day, plus he’s mildly freaked out by the supposed “Robert Marley” and his act. But then he gets an incoherrent call from John in the wee hours of the morning, with John obviously having a bad trip. Dave manages to get John calmed down enough to head into work, but then the cops show up. It seems that everyone except John who went with Mr. “Marley” last night is either dead or missing. Some seem to have exploded. The cops want to know why, and whether Dave knows anything….the resulting tale involves immaterial beings from another plane, a dark entity known as Korrok, doppelgangers, sausage demons, hidden doors, a realm John dubs “Shit Narnia,” and a drug called “Soy Sauce” that heightens your perceptions, may allow you a bit of temporal freedom, and may or may not be alive. Dave and John are not really who you want to be calling when the world’s about to end. I would probably call Harry Dresden, or the Ghostbusters, or even John Constantine, but this time Dave and John seem to be all we’ve got….
This was one of the most fun books I have picked up in ages. I’m not sure I can say it was “good,” from a literary or moral standpoint, but it was definitely fun. And offensive. Boy, was it ever offensive! High levels of profanity and crude humor, some sexual references, frequent gross-out moments played for horror or humor. If you offend easily, this is really not the book for you. But if you’re in the market for some fun that’s a little more on the rowdy side, you might want to consider picking this up.
CONTENT: R-rated language throughout, but this was one of those times that I actually accepted its presence. I can’t really picture these characters NOT talking this way. Sexual references, nothing too horribly explicit. John makes a plethora of jokes about the apparently-massive size of his junk. Gory gross-out violence all through the book. There is also a fair amount of occult material throughout, of one form or another.