Hallowread, Part 4! David Wong’s John Dies At The End
Okay, so, after trying (and failing) to appreciate the ‘Long Haired Vampire Men With Angst’ genre, I decided I needed to switch to something less pretentious, and more low brow.
John Dies At The End certainly delivered on that note. As it fits easily enough into the Horror genre, but it’s also full of poop and dick jokes.
So many poop and dick jokes.
I don’t want to use the term “palate cleanser” in the same sentence as poop and dick jokes, but you get the idea.
Anyway, this book’s been on my radar for awhile, but I’ve only now made it a point to track down a copy and read it. I’ve still got the movie lined up in my Netflix queue as well- but it may be awhile before I get around to watching it because Netflix keeps releasing Shaw Bros movies and Shaw Bros movies are amazing.
But I guess I should talk about the book, shouldn’t I?
John Dies At The End is a weird book. I’d even go so far as to label it as New Weird, because I might as well get some use out of that tag. It’s about two slacker dudes- “David Wong,” and his best friend, the titular John. Early on, they stumble across “Soy Sauce,” a strange drug that gives you psychic powers when you take it. That is, if you don’t OD, which makes you explode. Before long, David and John are caught up in all kinds of insanity, involving meat-monsters, superintelligent dogs, evil demon insects, one-handed women, floating jellyfish monsters, and possessed weathermen. That little breakdown right there makes it sound a lot more coherent than it actually is.
This gonzo sensibility is both a strength and a weakness of the book. As on the one hand, it disorients the reader, allowing Wong to throw all kinds of surprises at you. On the other, there are more than a few passages where things just get too weird and rambly. In particular, some of the tangents David goes on early in the novel where he’s jacked up on Soy Sauce go off into weird directions that don’t quite pay off. I wouldn’t blame a reader for giving up after the first couple of chapters, honestly.
Strange as it is, this is still a horror novel, and Wong comes up with some appropriately fucked up shit. There’s blood and gore aplenty, as all kinds of people meet all kinds of terrible ends. People explode. People melt. People are eaten alive by hordes of carnivorous bugs. Stranger things than that happen. I’ll let you decide whether this makes you want to read the book more or less.
John Dies At The End was first published on the internet, and it shows. For one, most of the demons David and John run into have the sensibilities (and profanity-ridden vocabulary) of a 14 year old internet troll. Given that Wong is a regular contributor to Cracked, and an internet user in general, I’m guessing this is a subject he’s got quite a bit of experience with. Add on the various poop and dick jokes (seriously, there’s a lot of poop and dick jokes), and it comes off like H.P. Lovecraft as done by Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
Honestly, John Dies At The End has a lot crammed between its covers. Too much, even. I get the feeling that Wong was pretty much making stuff up as he went along- the first third of the book works as its own thing, and then things kind of get piled on from there as Wong thinks up of new ideas. If it had been published traditionally, I could easily see a good few hundred pages getting mercilessly cut out and consolidated to give the book a little bit of a better sense of continuity.
There’s a definite metatextual bent to John Dies At The End. In the first third of the novel, David runs into a black detective he winds up referring to as “Morgan Freeman,” despite the guy not really looking like Morgan Freeman. There’s also a character named Jennifer Lopez (no, not that one), and Fred Durst (kinda) makes a cameo towards the end of the book. And then there’s a whole video-gamey section where David and John kill monsters who proceed to melt into boxes of extra ammo. That last part made me roll my eyes, despite the justification Wong throws in.
Every now and again, once you get past the metatext and the cyncism and the poop jokes, there’s some deeper stuff here. Wong captures the feel of Rust Belt decay very well; one could argue that this mid-western setting is more quietly unnerving than any number of squeebly leech monsters. Furthermore, David Wong (the character, not the author) is pretty fucked up as a person- and that’s before he starts taking Soy Sauce and seeing monsters.
John Dies At The End is a messy, imperfect novel- but it’s still a fun read. If nothing else, this book has got me interested in the derivative works- I’d like to see how the movie version pared things down (it’s directed by the same guy who did Phantasm!), or maybe even to see how Wong’s developed as a novelist in the sequel, This Book Is Full Of Spiders.
And hey, again, it was pretty refreshing to read something in which every character wasn’t named like a pretentious asshole.