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How to effectively sum up David Wong’s (not his real name) 2007 novel about a pair of slackers’ epic battles against the forces of darkness. Or, you know, whatever.
Encapsulating John Dies At the End in those broad Reaper/Clerks-meets-the apocalypse terms might provide a broad outline of what writer Jason Pargin is able to achieve here. This book might not make you keep the lights on at night, but in considering a possible confrontation with ultimate evil with a shrug, it’s both funny and sad, and memorable.
Pargin, who’s pseudonym narrates John Dies At the End, starts things off the way all mistakes that threaten to shatter the barrier between realities: with a doofus trying to impress a girl. David tells us–well, tells a journalist investigating David and John’s Internet-famous adventures–that it all started at a party after he ingests the “drug” Soy Sauce with the prodding of a fake Rastafarian. Now you’d think the subsequent high which opens up David’s senses and allows him to see things no one else can and experience things no one else has before would be a welcome reprieve from his 9-5 life working in a video store. But it’s all good fun until monsters made of discarded meat and sinister men start stalking you.
David’s ADD-addled best friend John isn’t any help either, a 20-something daredevil who’s very much a “pick up the chainsaw and start swinging it wildly, and let David ask the existential questions” type. The relationship between these two is the heart of the book, David working off something like outrage that he’s being bothered with all of this evil beings and monstrous entities crap (after he’s done being completely terrified) while John is simply ready to throw himself at whatever new situation his booze-soaked brain can tackle.
Pargin adds dimension and weight to both John and David (and later, Amy, a troubled girl from David’s past) by fully articulating what makes them tick and why they’re the best/worst people for this situation. David carries around a deep reservoir of pain, anger, and rage, and ironically might have become some kind of white trash casualty in the small town of [Undisclosed] if his life wasn’t in constant peril from the unknown. Similarly, John’s not at all what you would call dependable, but you get the sense by the end of the novel that he keeps it all together to keep David grounded and alive. It’s fascinating how broken these characters are, all penis jokes, aggression, and laziness, but there’s a deeper well there that John Dies At the End exposes.
Much of the story flips between what’s real and what’s “real,” the extra-dimensional things taking shape in John and David’s hometown, possessing the locals and/or turning them inside out into grotesque, hateful, cursing monsters. You’d almost think the author was making some kind of comment on the disaffected have-nots against the secret overlord “haves” but I’ll let you decide how far down that rabbit hole Pargin has decided to go here.
Wong/Pargin wrote John Dies At The EndPhantasm creator Don Coscarelli and picked up for distribution here in the U.S. by Magnet Releasing who are bringing it to theaters and VOD in December. I haven’t had the chance to check it out yet, but the Bubba Ho-Tep director seems like a good fit, particularly since John shares so much in common with his sprawling story of cross-dimensional evil and the grotesque horrors that cross into ours to menace a hapless ice cream man and a scared kid. The book also got a sequel earlier this month with This Book Is Full Of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It which I owe a proper review sometime later this month.