Friday, December 2, 2011

John Dies At The End Is All Wong

If any book ever deserved to have a warning label, it would be John Dies At The End by David Wong (a.k.a. Jason Pargin). The label wouldn't be fancy, something more generic like a "Hello My Name Is ..." sticker scratched out with blue ink and then renamed with a black Sharpie: "Results May Vary" by David Wong.

Results do vary. Some people know people who have been committed after reading it. Others claim the book cooks them breakfast and makes their coffee in the morning. Some people find it remarkably infectious. Others are compulsively obsessive in trying to return it, electronic editions included. Some people say it's so wet that it needs leak-proof binding. Others call it dry enough to spontaneously combust.

And if all these varied responses to the cult book seem suspiciously pointing toward the same conclusion, you're right. It's probably irresponsible to even review it. This book brings out the odd in everyone. You've been warned.

John Dies At The End is an imbalanced and bumpy romp of sloppy nonsense. 

What Wong wrote might be pressed between two covers, but it's obvious it began as a web serial, written in near real time by a guy who would eventually become a senior editor for Cracked. The entire story is too irregular to have ever been crafted by a writer (even when it was edited for print). Instead, it smacks of being furiously banged in short bursts, the author not always knowing where it might go.

And that is what it is: an exercise in stream-of-conscious short-content writing woven together by a paranormal theme-of-the-week flash that spanned five years to write. That, and there is the common but inconsistent insistence of dropping in unrelated random bits and one-liners that make it preposterous and sophomoric with alarming length. Oddly enough, it is both annoying and likable at the same time.

It's not unlike the film trailer for the Don Coscarelli screen treatment due out next year. The potential for it to be disastrously compelling or compellingly disastrous is present in every frame, even if the movie is tighter than the tome. It also has Paul Giamatti playing Arnie, a skeptical journalist who investigates paranormal affairs and, in this case, protagonist David Wong's undeniably weird and absurd stories.

The story of two friends who aren't named David Wong and John Cheese.

The bizarre collection of three major episodes are kicked off when the principal protagonist and author surrogate David Wong meets a Jamaican drug dealer enticing select people to take a paranormal psychoactive called "Soy Sauce." The drug is hardly passive. It wiggles, jiggles, and gets inside people.

The sauce is what makes Wong a less than a reliable storyteller. Wong says as much, in between his bouts of cynicism, slacker sarcasm, and self-corrections. He doesn't know what's real, some of the time.

The sauce also makes Wong wonky, endowing him with extra sensory perception, clairvoyance, and a keen ability to experience the mundane, like parallel worlds, time travel, ghosts, demons, and hell. Yeah, Soy Sauce is the good stuff. The only downsides are the side effects.

But to get to any of that, you have to wade past the prologue that gives you a taste of the book and not the best of it. The real story revolves around an evil that is attempting to move into and devour the world or at least own it.

The first time this evil attempts to infect people with large concentrations of the sauce in order to turn them into a mass of flailing, dismembered bodies capable of opening a doorway of nothingness inside the Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas. The second attempt is to worm its way into the world through the possession of a sportscaster. And lastly, it attempts to take advantage of Wong's apathetic reluctance to save the world and swap people for puppets.

The rest of it is strung together by the author's obsession with insects (little ones and big ones), meat, poop, naked people, penis jokes, and abrupt interjections by the author because he can't help himself. Sometimes, the absurdity of it all is funny. Sometimes it feels more like Wong finds it funny and is trying to convince you it's humorous too.

John Dies At The End Punches Up 4.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

There are large sections of the book that chug along uninterrupted and are deserving of a higher score, when Wong writes better than his potential as opposed to overwriting for an over-the-top effect. But then again, this book isn't literature as much as it is entertaining, thoughtless pleasure, like a celebrity reality show or circus side show might.

There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, this was what Wong was shooting for all along, even when he started writing the story online. His original plan was to write something that would help people forget their troubles for an hour or two. It's one guy's mash up of everyone he's been compared to without ever reaching their level of proficiency or prowess, making it neither comedy nor horror but a fantastical farce with forced commentary that will sometimes make you chuckle, sigh, and say "ew."

John Dies At The End by David Wong is available from Barnes & Noble. You can find it on Amazon or download the book from iBooks. There is also an audiobook on iTunes, read by Stephen R. Throne. It's almost uncanny how he sounds like David Wong and makes for a great narrator on what can be called a wild, silly, and sometimes grotesque ride.
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