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John Dies at the End / David Wong

Thomas Dunne Books / October 2009
Reviewed by: Martel Sardina

As a writer, it’s hard not to root for David Wong’s success once you know the story of how John Dies at the End came to be published. Wong’s (aka Jason Pargin, Editor of Cracked.com) story started as a serial novel posted on a blog that was downloaded over 70,000 times. Through a series of fortunate events, the online phenomenon garnered the attention of Permuted Press and ultimately the interest of Thomas Dunne Books, resulting in this hardcover release. Although this backwards journey is the antithesis of the traditional route to print publication, it makes perfect sense considering the story itself is surreal.

When some of the kids living in the Midwest town of [Undisclosed] try a new drug called Soy Sauce, they soon learn why they should have just said no. The unstable substance has properties that go beyond mind altering. Soy Sauce allows its users to travel between time and across dimensions. It also has opened a portal and evils from another world are seeping into ours. Now, it is up to John Smith [not his real name] and David Wong [not his real name], two college drop outs, to save the world. They are the only ones who have tried Soy Sauce and survived. Their quest to save the world takes them from [Undisclosed] to Las Vegas and back, battling monsters of all sorts. Some are shadowy figures and others are beasts that have a Lovecraftian feel.

John Dies at the End is classified as horror. There are monsters. Is should be scary, right? Should be — but isn’t. The story is chock-full of laughs. Wong has a unique outlook on Midwestern living and his observations are quite entertaining. Unfortunately, these observations tipped the scales toward the comedic. The reader is never allowed to fear what is to come. When scary things happen, there is always a punchline. (And in many instances, it’s variations of the same joke.) The punch lines spoil any pent-up tension. Without the tension, readers will find it harder and harder to want to keep reading.

Another misstep was the choice Wong made in how to tell the story. About twenty pages in, readers learn that David is relaying his story to a reporter named Arnie Blondestone. The story is told essentially in a flashback. There are occasionally breaks in the action, bringing readers back to the present conversation between David and Arnie. When these breaks occur, Arnie doubts that what David is telling him is true. In the first two hundred pages, it was easy to believe in David, that his experience was plausible. With each break, readers are pulled out of the story. Everything that was great in the first two hundred pages of the book becomes contrived and annoying by the end.

This reviewer realizes that she might be in the minority, but John Dies at the End did not live up to the hype. Should you see it at your local library and want to read something humorous, pick it up. But those seeking scares should look elsewhere. Wong fails to deliver.

Purchase John Dies At The End by David Wong.

Posted on Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 10:44AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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