Daniel's Reviews > John Dies at the End

John Dies at the End by David Wong
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M_50x66
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Mar 28, 12

Read from March 19 to 28, 2012

Have you ever sat around with your friends, perhaps with a case of beer or a bong, and gotten caught up in a game of "Wouldn't it be weird if...?" You toss out the craziest, coolest, and most unsettling stuff you can think of, and you chuckle a bit and maybe shudder some, and then you pass out and wake up and say, "Damn. We should've written some of that stuff down."

This book reads like one of those nights, but only if everyone also used minimal effort to try to connect every one of those weird scenarios together. Attempting to summarize the plot would be an exercise in futility, although it does involve other dimensions, lots of gore, mind-expanding drugs, resurrecting dogs, and god-like beings that make fart jokes.

The novel is meant to be Humor Horror, and it is both of those things, but only alternately and sporadically. What you end up with is a book that wants to make several serious points, but which is so afraid of being thought of as philosophical that it couches the seriousness in a lot of preschool humor and flippant self-deprecation. Wong makes a lot of very interesting points and muses over some thought-provoking points, but then -- perhaps worried about alienating an audience that he thinks might disdain such things -- he immediately apologizes for such commentary, slapping it aside with a dick joke or two.

Ultimately, the novel reminded me of an oatmeal raisin cookie. Oh so tasty until -- oh, ye Gods! -- you bite down into one of the off-putting raisins that look so much like chocolate.

If Wong had gone whole hog with the humor OR the horror, the novel would've been far more interesting. Instead, he dices it up into chunks, creating an inconsistent narrative that only further reveals the shoddy craftsmanship of the plot. The story stumbles and sprays with a lot of forward momentum, but without much of anything resembling coherency or cohesion. He creates a massive backlog of questions with virtually every chapter, but then answers very, very few of them. I'm tempted to call these things plot holes, but based on the ending of the book, I'm assuming Wong meant to answer these questions in later books.

This is all well and good if the first book is tantalizing enough to get the reader to hunger for more. Instead, to me, it felt very much like the last few seasons of LOST or THE X-FILES or ALIAS, etc. I doubt very much there are strong enough answers to tie up the thousand-and-one threads Wong left dangling in the story and -- even if there are -- I have almost no interest in them anymore. Leaving a few important questions unanswered is a good idea; leaving several hundred tiny details vague makes you sound like a writer who was just making everything up as he went along, and who couldn't be bothered to be his own continuity director. As a reader, this is exhausting and off-putting, and since the story feels so hastily slapped together, I am left without the desire to care too much about all those questions with which I closed the book.

Ultimately, my issue with the book (other than the scam of the title) can be found in the two main characters: John and David. The former is a wise-cracking ne'er-do-well who provides the bulk of the story's humor. He's always raring for adventure, is never fazed by the weirdest of situations, and has a cheesy one-liner for almost every event. David, on the other hand, is a morose, self-pitying depressant who is constantly complaining about how much the world sucks, how depressing life is, and how there's nothing real to be done about it all.

This duality, to me, represents what could have worked about the book, but which does not. David is the horror; John is the humor, and never the twain do they meet. It grows harder and harder to understand why these characters are friends, and why they continue to do the things they do, up to the novel's final moments, which include a) an inter-dimensional basketball gag that is introduced so lackadaisically that it is less funny than it is baffling and b) a pseudo-serious philosophical discussion on cruelty and power that ends, literally, in mid-sentence. In other words, one final attempt to sandwich together a stupid joke with half-hearted thoughtfulness.

Wong seems capable of pretty good writing, at least the kind that gets you to keep turning the pages. Now he just needs to figure out how to merge the two halves of his personality so that they flow together as one story. As soon as his profundity stops being apologetic and his humor and darkness learn how to meld, he'll be well-worth reading. For now, though, I was disappointed.
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