Book Review: John Dies at the End

JDEAs a longtime reader of the excellent list-based comedy website, I knew a bit about Cracked’s senior editor Jason Pargin, who writes under his pen name David Wong. I have enjoyed several of his articles and when I heard he had written a book, I rushed to purchase it. I really liked John Dies at the End, which was no small feat as I am generally not a fan of horror or sci-fi novels. However, I am a big fan of humor, especially the dark or nonsensical type, and his novel is largely comprised of both. Spoilers ahead.

This is a tough novel to write about without giving absolutely everything away, but I’ll try. It begins with the main character (and unreliable narrator), David Wong, being interviewed by a reporter. David and John, along with Molly, a dog that adopted David, are known “supernatural” experts in the paranormal field. David tells the tale of how it all began, but the reporter is skeptical, as many would be. David is a borderline sociopath, and has been on the wrong side of the law far too many times. He is, however, capable of emotion, even if John is the only person he could actually call a friend. David is glad to have him, even if John often makes his life more difficult. For instance, it is primarily John’s fault that David is in the ghost-busting business.

While at a party, John gets drunk and takes several interesting drugs, as is his typical Saturday night. He eventually falls into a group of people headed by a drug dealer magician with a fake Jamaican accent. The Jamaican magician starts injecting people with a drug called Soy Sauce because of its resemblance to the thick dark liquid. Suddenly everyone starts freaking out. They see shadows and monsters, things that normally no one can see, but are still there. Some people start exploding from the inside.

soy sauce

Not fit for human consumption.

While trying to drag John to the hospital, David is accidentally pricked and injected with the Soy Sauce. That was the tame part of the novel—from here on it gets “all kinds of fucked up.” Blood and gore, allusions to past transgressions, and plenty of violence—it’s a very exciting, but very graphic book, featuring more bloodied intestines than a sausage factory (I’m sorry if I just ruined sausage for you).

As I stated previously, I enjoyed the book; it was funny, entertaining and I was rarely bored reading it. However it did have a few problems. John Dies at the End was originally published online as a serial novel, and it shows. It’s easy as a writer to forget and discard things that they may deem no longer interesting. Another problem was that female representation was minimal at best. There is a brief mention of John’s girlfriend, and David also has a girlfriend named Jennifer Lopez (no relation to JLo) for a few months who had survived the Soy Sauce. She dislikes the supernatural and eventually they break up. It seemed kind of pointless.

Then there is Amy Sullivan, whose older brother “Big Jim” Sullivan dies. David assumed she was “retarded” because she attended the same special behavioral school that he attended after a certain incident caused him to be sent there. She is somewhat more involved in the story, but is more along the lines of a “damsel in distress” than a player in her own right. That may just be David’s projection on her—after all, helpless ladies are his type. Overall it was disappointing how little women were involved in the story, and of course the liberal use of the word “retard” was bad.

However, I do appreciate that David lets the reader know that he is not necessarily the best guy in the story, and though he is trying to do what he believes is right, he and John “fuck things up” most of the time. They are not the square-jawed, machine gun-toting, Rambo-esque heroes that many people are used to. nor are they the best judge of the situation, or character, or what in the hell is going on. What they are is human, and there is nothing wrong with that.

I highly recommended both this book and the recently published sequel, This Book is Full of Spiders, which I thought was actually better. There is also a movie based on John Dies at the End that I haven’t gotten around to watching yet.

It does look awesome, though.

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“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures...thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”