John Dies at the End is a difficult book to describe. Written by David Wong, a pseudonym for Cracked.com editor Jason Pargin, the book almost defies reviewing. It’s the kind of story that leaves you laughing, exhilarated and utterly incapable of explaining why. With hands flailing expressively one says, “You just need to read it!” at the questioning party. I will attempt to be a bit more descriptive here.
If I could give this book a different title it would be Harold and Kumar Meet a Shoggoth because that’s exactly what it is. Part buddy comedy, part indescribable horror from beyond the realm of human imagination. The story follows David Wong, an average- albeit completely insane -individual who is attempting to recount the events of his life to a news reporter. According to Wong, what began as a below average kegger spiraled out of control when David’s best friend John takes a powerful unknown drug only known to them as “the soy sauce”. Now with the ability to see through time and space, the pair become painfully aware of an evil presence that is seeping it’s way into their world. And whats worse is now that presence is aware of them too. Can John and Dave unmask the nebulous evil, solve the mystery and save the world? Probably not. But it’s definitely worth reading.
The story itself is heavily influenced by H.P Lovecraft, a science fiction/horror writer from the early 1900’s who is experiencing a revival in popularity. His short stories usually involved a young gentlemen who unwittingly stumbles onto a horrible secret evil. Character who survived usually lived out their days babbling incoherently. But where Lovecraft’s work is well known for being verbose and somewhat antiquated, Wong’s writing style is quite the opposite. This writing style is short, concise and does not pull punches for anyone:
“Dave? This is John. Your pimp says bring the crack shipment tonight, or he’ll be forced to stick you. Meet him where we buried the Korean whore. The one without the goatee.”
That was code. It meant “Come to my place as soon as you can, it’s important.” Code, you know, in case the phone was bugged.
“John, it’s three in the-“
“-Oh, and don’t forget, tomorrow is the day we kill the President.”
He was gone. That last part was code for, “Stop and pick me up some cigarettes on the way.”
Now after reading that excerpt, you may be surprised to read I actually found this book to be genuinely scary. Pargin manages to oscillate between laugh-out-loud hilarious to bone chilling terror rather effortlessly. It’s a hybrid of genres not often paired together, and never this successfully. The scarier scenes are reminiscent of Stephen King’s writing, relying heavily on memory and the five senses to surround the reader with the story.
Although I found this book funny, it’s been noted on several occasions that it takes a lot to offend me. That being said, I don’t recommend this book for those who are [easily offended]. Our protagonist, Dave, is a hapless but still a likeable person. However the story itself does crack several jokes at the expense of Christians, homosexuals, and the developmentally disabled. If raunchy, unapologetic humor is not your cup of tea, than steer clear. If it is, I highly recommend John Dies At the End. You’ve been warned.