Books – “John Dies At The End”

I’m kind of in a spot here, with “John Dies At The End”. On the one hand, I need blog content, and I think it’s a genuinely good book worth whatever limited exposure I can give it. On the other hand, he’s also the editor I mostly deal with at Cracked (i.e. he’s my boss), so it’s not unreasonable to ask yourself: is this an honest review?

So consider this: David Wong spent years writing this book, in public, on the Internet, about the crappiest way to write a book. In the interim, he started a fairly successful website that was absorbed into Cracked.com, where he was made the associate editor. Wong’s not just a novelist: he’s an editor. He spends every single day working on other people’s writing. So if there’s a guy you want writing a book, it’s the guy who spends all of his time thinking about what separates good writing from bad writing.

Here’s the thing about “John Dies At The End” that makes it both funny and genuinely creepy: the demons featured are not just hateful, vile, and disgusting, they’re also petty and stupid. They kill the wrong people, they fuck with people just because they think it’s funny, and they make mistakes like any human, except their mistakes are usually fatal for the human on the receiving end. This isn’t a world where your horrible fate is brought upon you by the crushing hand of destiny. This is a world where you can get screwed at random: Kafka by way of Sam Raimi.

This is pretty well rendered in the scene with David Wong, going to work and listening to the radio, and the demons, just for the hell of it, are tweaking his perceptions so that the songs are all tasteless parodies about foul sexual acts, anti-Semitism and racism. Not to scare him. Not to torture him. No, they’re mangling Toto’s “Africa” into a racist screed just because they’re dicks.

“JDATE” is an odd horror novel in that the main protagonist isn’t so much Action Man or a good man broken by circumstances as he is a put-upon straight man. Sure, he’s been exposed to unrelenting, godawful horror, and so has John, and sometimes it utterly overwhelms him. But he’s been exposed to so much strange shit that he’s somewhat inured to it; he doesn’t so much freak out as groan, grip his shotgun, yank John’s chain to get him into line and get to work. It makes for an interesting narrator, kind of a Borscht-Belt, more intelligent Ash. Forces of darkness, I’m the only one who can fight them, yadda yadda frickin’ yadda, an attitude which pays off beautifully in the closing gag.

More than anything else, though, it’s the little touches, like that “Africa” rewrite I mentioned above. John’s life is both awful in the horror novel sense and awful in the everyday sense. The guy’s got a shitty job, a best friend who desperately needs Ritalin, and woman troubles. It’s implied part of the reason he doesn’t have as much trouble dealing with Korrok and all the awful things he runs into as most people is because he already has all this crap to deal with. Korrok and company make it worse, no question, but his life already sucked enough that dealing with hate-creatures from another dimension is just another shovelful of crap life’s dumped on him.

If there’s a criticism you can level at it, it’s that it’s pretty episodic. Although each of the stories are tied together in key ways, they are pretty much stand-alone tales, and the attempt to tie them together with an overarching plotline of a journalist coming to interview him doesn’t quite do it.

That said, JDATE is still a damn good book, and Wong’s a damn good writer. I’ll be curious to see what happens with John and Dave in the future, especially if the check I got for this review cashes.

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