2009, Books, Fiction

John Dies at the End (2009) by David Wong

Full disclosure: I didn’t read this when it was on the web, before it was published. But I saw the film at Midnight Madness TIFF in 2012. I don’t really remember the movie much any more but my review suggested I enjoyed it except for two things: 1) the CGI (which I remember being awful) and 2) the pacing. Unfortunately, my only real memory was of enjoying it. And I spent much of the book thinking “Is this the source for the movie I liked?” and being really confused.

The novel is funny and extremely inventive. This guy clearly has a great imagination and I could not have thought of 1/10th of what he did in creating these worlds. I laughed out lout many times and chuckled more often than that. A few times I also thought the jokes were too crude/mean, which suggests I’m either getting old or becoming sensitive to the fact that humour can hurt. I can imagine discovering this book online before it was published, or in 2009 when it was, and falling in love with it. But I am a different person than I was then.

My first big issue is David Wong, who is not likeable. That’s sort of the point but it’s still hard to endure. Like many people, I am tired of the unlikeable/troubled male protagonist supragenre. I wasn’t tired of it when this book came out, but I read it when I was. I find him exhausting and unrelatable.

The bigger problem, for me, is that this feels like three separate stories (plus other “skits”, you might say) combined as one, to make a novel. Yes, they all take place in the same world, but it’s easy to see these as part of a collection of related stories, progressing to a conclusion, rather than a novel. I haven’t read the other books in the series, but I do wonder if they are as fractured temporally as this is. This book literally has two climaxes. That’s innovative, for sure. It’s also possibly an indication that neither of these stories was enough for a novel. It just has a weird feel to it, you know?

I worry that so much of my experience with this book comes from my expectations, set by my vague memory of enjoying the movie I had no expectations for. I’m sure if I had encountered this without much knowledge, I would have enjoyed it more. And, as I said, I would have enjoyed it far more in my 20s. It’s still a very entertaining book. And it’s endlessly inventive. It’s also not really my thing.


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