Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review: John Dies at The End by David Wong

In years past, I never liked to take my Lovecraftian fiction with humor. I would sit down with a new anthology, looking forward to reading all the creepy stories, and then I would come across one that traded the scares for laughs, and more often than not I would skip it. I always enjoyed horror comedy films, but when it came to my Mythos fiction, I wanted pure horror.

Now, years later, I've grown past that expectation. Now I can appreciate some of the humorous stories that I once would have turned my nose up towards. But even so, it wasn't until I picked up John Dies at The End that I found a mash-up of Lovecraftian horror and comedy that worked perfectly well for me.

Author David Wong (pseudonym of Cracked editor Jason Pargin) originally released his horror comedy epic piecemeal via the internet. A cult fanbase quickly grew, and eventually Pargin was offered a book deal with Permuted Press. This printing only increased the book's popularity, and it has since been printed by an even bigger publisher, and even turned into a feature film directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep).

What makes John Dies at The End successful is Wong's ability to seamlessly blend comedy and horror. The comedy may not be for everyone, as it relies on foul language, and sometimes immature jokes. It's as if director Kevin Smith took his low-brow brand of humor and channeled it towards writing a tale of interdimensional creatures threatening an unnamed Midwestern town.

The book follows narrator David Wong and his best friend John. They are both slackers in their early twenties, and are perfect foils for each other. David is a troubled young man, and suffers from a deep-rooted pessimism. He is unwittingly pulled into each situation the duo finds themselves confronted with, and would like nothing more than to live a normal life. John on the other hand, is ever the optimist. When the duo are both dosed with the "drug" called "soy sauce", which gives the ability to see what others can't, John couldn't be more excited about their new life. He fully embraces their new abilities, and seeks out the bizarre situations that David would rather just ignore.

Most of the novel follows a frame-story structure. After a prologue detailing one of David and John's random encounters with the supernatural, the book moves to They China Food!, a grungy little Chinese restaurant where David is meeting with a reporter to tell his story. His story is split into two books, which contain roughly three main plot lines, all connected. The first half of the novel is about how David and John first end up going down the interdimensional rabbit hole. The "soy sauce" drug allows users to open up, and grants them second-sight. When some of the drug gets around town, and David accidentally doses, they find themselves on a bloody trail towards Las Vegas. While it seems like this first half could be a book by itself, the second half sees them a few months into the future, with two connected stories. The first involves a sports anchor on the local news accidentally (or purposefully) dosing on soy sauce, which then open the door for the servants of Korrok (a big, nasty, powerful being from an alternate dimension). The Korrok storyline is continued into the third and final act, which involves a local girl's disappearance, a mysterious dimensional traveler, and a trip into Korrok's realm.

Wong's book plays with several paranormal themes, such as Shadow People, Rods, and conspiracy theories. Many of Lovecraft's themes are also present, such as beings from other dimensions, vast and malignant alien creatures, and transference of consciousness.

To sum up my feelings on the book, I read two hundred pages in the first day. Two days later I was finished. It was the fastest I've read a book all summer, and it's been a busy enough summer that I haven't been getting nearly enough reading done. The book is great fun. It's chock-full of humor, action, suspense, and horror. I've already started the sequel, and I can't wait to see the further adventures of David and John.

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