Saturday, March 9, 2013

John Dies at the End review

     This is the review of the book as opposed to the movie, which is available here
     John Dies At The End is a funny-funny book. It's also a work which could have used a tighter focus, a stronger single narrative, and a few other changes. Despite this, the book is a unique experience (in part due to its flaws). 

     The story, published by comic author Jason Pargin under the pseudonym David Wong, has a lot of first novel mistakes which help contribute to its autobiographical feel. Likewise, it's clear this book was published in a serialized form and the chapters were meant to be read individually like an old Pulp magazine as opposed to all at once. This just makes the book feel like it was written by a man out of his depth rather than a professional writer, which also helps the narrative.
     Still, the book sometimes feels like you're reading the writings of a man telling a long meandering story on the fly. No matter how interesting the story, you wish he'd get to the point. Many of the plots go nowhere and characters you think important are dropped unceremoniously.
     Fans of the movie will note only about a third of the book was used as the basis. The book has a great deal more in the way of enemies, plot, and characters. Frankly, I think the book should have been divided up a bit more or the movie too but both manage to stand on their own merits. In short, pick it up if you have the time.
     The premise for the book remains roughly the same: David Wong and his friend David Cheese have gained drug-derived supernatural abilities to see and comprehend the universe. Unfortunately, the universe is an infinitely scarier and surreal place than either of them could have imagined. There's monsters, demons, Shadowmen, ghosts, and Jamaican drug-dealers whose wares bestow psychic powers.

     A major subplot of the book which was excised for the movie is also the issue of identity. What makes us who we are when there's the ability to clone people, turn them into monsters, brainwash them, change their memories, and so on. Interestingly, the book provides a satisfactory answer and I'm inclined to cut it a lot of slack for this very reason alone.

     A character who strongly benefits from reading the original book as opposed to the movie is Amy. While regulated to the token love interest in the movie, she's significantly more proactive and interesting in the book. Which is surprising since she doesn't show up until halfway into the story. 

     Overall, I strongly recommend reading John Dies At The End in addition to watching the movie. It is a funny, satirical, scary, and occasionally even poignant story about two dudes finding themselves in a situation way above their pay grade (or anyone's pay grade for that matter). It's not perfect but it's an excellent work for a first novel.


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