Just plain weird (and not all that good)

John Dies at the End ★ ★
David Wong

Plot Summary: It’s a drug that promises an out-of-body experience with each hit. On the street they call it Soy Sauce, and users drift across time and dimensions. But some who come back are no longer human. Suddenly a silent otherworldly invasion is underway, and mankind needs a hero. What it gets instead is John and David, a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold down jobs. Can these two stop the oncoming horror in time to save humanity? No. No, they can’t.

johndiesI couldn’t wait to get my hands on this; word-of-mouth promised a heady, hilarious horror romp. Unfortunately, it did not live up to the hype for me. Think Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure meets Ghostbusters (or depending on your frame of reference, maybe Ghostfacers a la Supernatural), with Lovecraftian-style monsters, a twist of Rod Serling and a dash of psychotropic drugs to really mess you up. Sounds promising, no? Brilliantly mad? Genius even? The only problem is John Dies at the End falls way short of sustaining the insanity in any meaningful or satisfying way.

This book is moderately amusing in places (I smiled but did not laugh out loud). Our heroes are basically doofuses (and that’s the point) but I wasn’t given the opportunity to really invest in them. The plot is outrageous and just too ambitious. It was like “enough already!!! C’mon!!!” Because the entire novel reads like one long, really whacked acid trip, you never know what’s going to happen next. Normal rules just don’t apply. Everything has a dreamlike (nightmarish) quality. That should be a good thing, but in this case I eventually just got terribly bored – oh look, another creature with eyes on stalks and baby arms for legs. Oh jeez, see that jellyfish hanging from the ceiling? Watch out for the wormhole!!!!

This book shows a lot of potential but in the end cannot deliver on what it promises. Wong (whose real name is Jason Pargin, online humorist, National Lampoon contributor, and editor in chief of Cracked.com) is without question a talented guy and certainly has a vivid imagination.  In the end, however, John Dies at the End boils down to a much ado about not a whole helluva lot.  Rating: ★★

About the Book: John Dies at the End started its life as a webserial in 2001 and an estimated 70 000 people read the free online versions before they were removed in September 2008. The story of how this book found its way to publication is actually better than the book itself and told quite well by Wong a.k.a Pargin in an epilogue. Of course it’s been optioned for a movie but when we’ll see it is anyone’s guess. I actually think what didn’t work for me in the book might actually work amazingly well on film, and I look forward to seeing what director Don Coscarelli (Bubba Ho-tep) does with it. Check out the John Dies at the End website.

Watch the original book trailer!

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