John Dies at the End * David Wong Book Review

This is the fact the world desperately hides from us from birth. Long after you find out the truth about sex and Santa Claus, this other myth endures, this one about how you’ll always get rescued at the last second and if not, your death will at least mean something and there’ll be somebody there to hold your hand and cry over you.
All of society is built to prop up that lie, the whole world a big, noisy puppet show meant to distract us from the fact that at the end, you’ll die, and you’ll probably be alone.”

This is not a depressing book. This is a very funny and sometimes completely mental book that you want to read with your mental friends and have a laugh. There’s a possessed pooch, an inter-dimensional worm hole which lets some slugs get through and a drug that makes “Limitless” look like child’s play. I loved the book even though it was absolutely bonkers at points!

“I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible as I lay the sausage against my ear. Abruptly, my cell phone went dead. A drop of grease dribbled into the dead center of my ear, creeping like a worm down onto my neck and below the collar of my shirt. A group of men and women in business suits walked by, swerving to avoid me. Across the street, a homeless-looking guy was staring at me, curious. Yep, this was pretty much rock bottom. As I was about to reach for a napkin and at least get my money’s worth by eating the bratwurst while still hot, I heard it.
“Dave? Can you hear me?”

The heroes are similar and somehwhat unlikeable; the rather boring Arthur Dent and 20-something slacker, David, a video store clerk. The plot involves the end of the world as we know it, and time travel or alternate realities may or may not be involved. Wong plays around in modern America, where we’ve navel-gazed at absurdity so long, the commentary is hardly unique. The language can be fun. But then there are the almost-but-not-quite analogies, such as the supposition if aliens had helped the Egyptians build a casino pyramid, it would look like the Luxor. Um, I believe that’s the idea, more or less; a casino pyramid. I’m not sure myself how to take that to the next level of potential wierdness, but that’s not it.

“I reached back and, for the first time in my life, smacked a dog across the nose with an envelope full of cash.

And, of course, there’s the toilet humor and penis imagery, a la movies like The Hangover. Clearly, I’m old, because it was funny for about a sentence, but unfortunately continued much longer. How many times can you freak out about grabbing penis doorknobs before you sound homophobic?

“John, let me make one thing clear,” Jim said, cutting me off in his most stern, evangelical voice. “Every man is blessed with his gifts from the Lord. One of mine happens to be a penis large enough that, if it had a penis of its own, my penis’ penis would be larger than your penis.”…..
…”Fuck all of you,” John retorted. “You don’t even exist. We’re all just a figment of my cock’s imagination.” 

This book is not for everyone. The whole thing was a riot and it’s perfect for anyone looking to take a break from Tolkien and read something nonsensical and crazy. David tells his story to a reporter after presenting him with some irrefutable proof that there is an alternate dimension and that there are monsters out there.

“What do you think it’s like, Father?”
“What what’s like?”
“Being crazy. Mentally ill.”
“Well, they never know they’re ill, do they? You can’t diagnose yourself with the same organ that has the disease, just like you can’t see your own eyeball. So, I suppose you just feel normal and the rest of the world seems to go crazy around you.”

This book is about shit. And insects. And humanity. It makes comments about the composition of time and it doesn’t go all Stephen Hawkins on you.

“Whoops,’ said John. ‘I tossed our ball into another universe.’
‘You wanna go home?’
‘Yeah, just let me get my ball.”

While all these aspects make for some top-level ridiculousness, I think it’s important not to let them totally distract from the messages that are present.

The writing is what really brought the story to life. It’s told from the perspective of David, who is incredibly witty & has a lot of insightful things to say about why humans behave the way they do. Sure, he is disparaging & crude in his commentary, but there’s a ribbon of raw truth beneath it all that makes David an intensely relatable character.

It’s almost uncomfortable how Wong forces his audience to face the juxtaposition of deeply relevant ideas next to a black, self-depreciating humor & a consistent stream of stomach-churning violence. But it’s cleverly constructed & mostly positive experience.

“Imagine fifty thousand men trapped on a desert island, deprived of food and water and sex but somehow kept alive for fifty thousand years. Then, after they’ve been tormented a hundred steps beyond insanity, tortured past self-mutilation and cannibalism, somebody drops off a sculpture of a naked woman made from T-bone steaks. If you could then capture the sound of them simultaneously fucking and eating and tearing her to shreds and broadcast it into the center of your skull at ten thousand watts, it would still sound absolutely nothing like what I heard.”

Best bits:

“I don’t see it right now – maybe it was in a different book – but anyway, he says that when you read the Bible, the Devil looks back at you through the pages.”
“What, like his Bible was possessed? Holy shit, he must have been the worst priest ever.”

“Tip: if you ever feel a puke coming on, do not, do not put your hand over your mouth to try to catch it. It’s reflex but it doesn’t work at all. Vomit kind of sprays everywhere.”

John’s coffee, which tasted like battery acid someone had pissed in then cursed at for several hours.

“John flung himself into a pseudo-karate stance, one hand poised behind him and one in front, posed like a cartoon cactus. I thought for an odd moment he had moved his limbs so fast they had made that whoosh sound through air but then I realized John was making that sound with his mouth.”

Most people don’t realize it until they’re facedown on the pavement somewhere, gasping for their last breath. Only then do they realize that life is a flickering candle we all carry around. A gust of wind, a meaningless accident, a microsecond of carelessness, and it’s out. Forever. And no one cares. You kick and scream and cry out into the darkness, and no answer comes. You rage against the unfathomable injustice and two blocks away some guy watches a baseball game and scratches his balls. Scientists talk about matter, the invisible, mysterious substance that occupied the space between stars. Dark matter makes up 99.99 percent of the universe, and they don’t know what it is. Well I know. It’s apathy. That’s the truth of it; pile together everything we know and care about in the universe and it will still be nothing more than a tiny speck in the middle of a vast black ocean of Who Gives A Fuck.”

Worst bits:
After a while you stop caring and you think WTF was the author smoking when he wrote the book. It’s fun for the first half and then it gets tedious as none of the plots or sub-plots or sub-sub-plots take you anywhere.

I’m in two minds about it. On some days I want to add it to the burn pile, on other days, to my most treasured and unique books. I need a second opinion!

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