When Dave and John, two lovable losers and unapologetic slackers from an undisclosed town in the American Midwest, inject themselves with a mysterious drug given to them by a man with an obviously fake Jamaican accent and the ability to levitate, they encounter unexpected results. Aside from being able to move freely through space and time, they can now perceive extra-dimensional monstrosities that have entered into our world. The book, John Dies at the End, was published under the name David Wong (who is the story’s main protagonist and first-person narrator), but was actually written by Jason Pargin, the executive editor of Cracked.com. The book first appeared as a web serial in 2001. Jason was working a day job as a copyeditor for a law firm and spent his evenings writing articles for his humor website A Pointless Waste of Time. As John Dies falls loosely into the horror genre, he made a point to publish a new chapter every Halloween. The book first saw print in 2007 and in 2008, before it was removed, over 70,000 people had read the online version.
This is not a book for anyone who has fallen out of touch with their inner ten-year-old, as the entire novel is loaded with poop jokes and eighth-grade humor. Not to say the story lacks content. There are haunted houses, a meat monster, a skeptical reporter, a video rental store, clones, shadow people, a trip to Las Vegas, a biological computer from another detention, the possibility of alien invasion and bratwursts. The friendship between Dave, a fairly honest guy trying to survive from day to day and John, a heavy-drinking egomaniac, creates a hilarious dynamic, but is also fairly touching. Personally, I’m reminded of Dante and Randal from Kevin Smith’s career-launching film, Clerks. Neither is entirely lovable, yet you can’t help but relate to them.
The book is funny, gimmicky, original and everything it advertises. But, from the way the chapters are formatted, to an inconsistent plot-progression, Jason’s roots as a columnist instead of career novelist are made fairly obvious. At times, the plot becomes a jumbled tangle of flashbacks and shifts in viewpoint. Some initial conflicts remain unresolved and many ideas are left incomplete. That is to say, anyone searching for the reincarnation of William Faulkner should take their quest elsewhere (Could Pargin be the second-coming of H.P. Lovecraft? It wouldn’t surprise me in the least). However, the characters are written with surprising sincerity and some of their backstories are actually rather touching.
All shortcomings aside, John Dies at the End definitely holds a slot on my list of all-time favorite books. Its unabashed immaturity is admirable. As a satire of the ‘small town horror story,’ I’d recommend this book to any big fans of Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Richard Matheson. It’s a fun read, filled with cheap, reliable humor that will, if nothing else, make you laugh.
A sequel to John Dies at the End, titled This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It, was released in 2012 (personally, I found it even better than the first). A movie adaptation of John Dies, directed by Don Coscarelli, came out that same year.