John Dies at the End (John Dies at the End, #1) Book Review

This book is probably the most entertaining and FUN book I have read. . . in a decade. I genuinely had a really good time reading the majority of the book. So much so that the few scenes that weren’t riveting had that consequence — of being smushed in between some really interesting stuff and thus became way more boring then they would be if they were in another book.

Cover of "John Dies at the End"

Cover of John Dies at the End

Interpretations will vary, but for me, where this book thematically goes well is in the realm of Meta. What a book is and what a writer’s powers are becomes really clear when you read something so . . . absurd. This book heavily plays with the fact that whatever the author writes becomes very real to the reader. Even if it isn’t likely to happen. Plot holes, dialogues, and images that are extremely psychedelic just make sense in this Universe. Even it is as retarded as a half gorilla half crab. Retarded being a descriptor of the self-deprecating MC. . .

. . .Who’s voice I love. Yeah he has a curious plot twist but that’s not actually why he is interesting. He is interesting because he is very. . . real. This book really takes advantage of first pov when it has a MC with a really distinct 21st century young voice. Though I loved some of the puns (“Anybody else want to donate blood to chair-ity?”) this book was more. . . fun than funny. And a lot of the “fun” of it was the MC’s really casual voice. I would also argue that it is the casual voice that makes the horror so striking. Because you don’t expect this every-man to be as dark as he is.

So yeah, this is horror. I wouldn’t argue it isn’t. There are some images and ideas in here that reached to my fundamental fears and phobias — like Cockroach Man and people in your TV — but the real horror comes from the things that will last. The big ideas, y’know? Like, I’m always going to wonder about Todd now. It is deep in my subconscious.

Some other Theism/Free Will/Hell ideas were discussed. But Vonnegut and Anne Rice did it better. I guess that isn’t fair, but I read too many Vonnegut books that really spine-shaking deconstruct fee will (and same with Anne Rice and Heaven/Hell) for me to give this book its props. It was there but there were a lot of other things going on too in this book. For these themes and ideas to really take hold it needs more space. That’s my take.

Though I have some other critiques most of it I can really just push under the rug and still give this book five stars. I had a lot of fun reading it and I really appreciate all the risks Wong took in writing such a unique story. Yeah other books discuss similar big themes but whatever. That’s a vague similarity. I would be really surprised to read anything that is like this book unless this book IS the inspiration. Vonnegut is the closest thing but the Voices are way different. A key lesson to new writers to find and master your voice.

I’m ranting but I get like that when I get this excited.
This book in brief: Fun and casual but at the same time spilled-oil dark.


If you don’t know it’s impossible, it’s easier to do.

I usually respond to self-identity issues through emotional thought exercises. When I moved back home the first thing I did was  glide into my bedroom, plop onto my old red office chair, and swirled in circles around my bedroom. And all around me were blurry rusty memories of myself crumbling. In that corner. Sprawled out in the center. Sitting near my desk. Leaning over my vanity. Or on my white chair with disinterested glazed eyes in the direction of my television. Then there is my bed– one giant tissue. And my bathroom counter which I still like to curl up in. I have cried about how I couldn’t stop needing my parents.  I have cried because I was unsure what my lovers really thought about me. I have cried about suicide and self-loathing and mental illness. I have cried about religion and God.  I have cried because when I was all alone, not a glimmer in anyone’s consciousness, I felt unreal. I have cried because I didn’t know how to push the people away who have dirtied me. I have cried just to cry over and over again.

Though my self-identity has always been in an insecure-flux there were a couple of labels that I have kept in mind as a way to keep me self-aware. They were the kind of identities that you are forced fed like being a daughter, being italian, or being a student.  The identity that took up most of my time and energy was being a student (admittedly, a predisposed plan with its own baggage). Now that I graduated and am done with school I have a lot of energy and time and brainpower unused and available for an existential crisis. I now have to actually figure out who  I am. What this world is to me. And what kind of life I want.

My initial reaction to these pondering was a yo-yo between restlessness and fear. I wanted to experience things. Lots of things. Quickly. Urgently. I didn’t want any moment wasted. I didn’t know what those things were but I knew that they were out there being fondled by a stranger that I was jealous of. But, I knew that every choice I made will open one door but close off enough. And I was also petrified in making the wrong choice and then closing off  doors to spectacular things. Because I am not 100% confident in anything about me I don’t know what choices I should be making and which doors are of merit to me. However, there is one glimmer of information about myself that I am starting to embody. I have a  passion for art . As far as doors go, closing any door that gets me closer to being a professional artist would be the biggest of the fears. Another thing I’m scared of is falling into a routine of comfort. I am already extremely comfortable in Manhattan, with my boyfriend,  with local friends doing local things, in a close distance from family. I could do this forever  and be fine and that’s what’s unnerving. I’m too young to say something like that.  I do not want to be trapped– I need to run and gallop. But there is a lot of mucus around me that is keeping me a bit stuck.  Inside of me. Outside of me. I’m scared of falling into a dull routine that wastes the rest of my life because that is what’s comfortable.

All of these problems would be less dramatic if I had a drive– if I had a list that answered:  what is my life, who do I want to be?, what really matters? Why don’t I have any goals at all?–  if I had a mountain.

Something that was really inspiring to me was Neil Gaiman’s recent speech at the commencement ceremony at University of the Arts Class of 2012. He said some really brilliant things but an especially inspiring Gaiman quote was:

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.

Since I heard this speech I been inspired to create my mountain.  I did this by mind mapping out a bucket list.  I created different categories of goals/self-identities. The main four categories are: (1) Art (2) Travel (3) Humans (4) Money (5) Other. Then underneath each category I created a list of examples that would accomplish those identities. My bucket list quickly became nutrients for my biggest art piece– living.

Bucket List

My mindmap of my bucket list.

By giving myself  feasible, interesting, exciting, adventurous, and curious goals I provided myself with a path. This path is interesting enough for me to be know that I will enjoy the process, the experience, and the accomplishment of going down it. On the other hand, I didn’t create a step-by-step plan so in the vagueness there’s enough room for me to breathe and make impulsive choices and to not be trapped.

Creating the bucket list didn’t solve all my existential difficulties however it has given me a strong foundation. I have some sort of idea of what I want to do and what opportunities in life are useful to me and what are not. I know that if I were to die crossing off everything on my list then that would be a really fantastic amazing life that I would be proud of. It would be a life that I know I chose to make. It wouldn’t be the reactionary kind of life.

Give it a whirl, girl.

Trigger Warning: Death / mortality

“I want to be a squirrel,” I whimpered, legs shaking, halfway down the brick road on 91st street.

The street is closed off from cars and is a favorite spot for people-watching, puppy-watching, squirrel-watching.  But, I couldn’t enjoy it now because I was flipping the shit over final week. This was my worst week in the worst semester of school that I ever had. My professors were not on my side this semester. I know their job isn’t to make it easy to succeed but most of the time I felt like they were punishing me for making it to my senior year.  I was trying harder then ever before but I did not reap the rewards of my hearty all-American work ethic– I wasn’t doing well at all.  But, anyway, I was on this brick road watching a ball of fuzz climb up a tree and I sighed hard enough to push a few tears out of. Fuck, it isn’t fair, why couldn’t I be born a squirrel.   The jealousy itching up my back made me feel like the critter was trying to crawl into my brain. He seemed so happy to find a nut. To succeed in that moment’s challenge. To be completely illiterate of the concept of time, watches, calendars, birthdays.

It just feels like my entire life has been filled with different complex-challenges that distribute the same reward: frequent and highly-pressured stepping-stones to a successful future.  But I haven’t been given much breathing room under the push and shove from one challenge to the next to even  organize  what success is and what kind of future I even want.

Of course, the other problem with being a future-forward human being is that I’m assuming I’m going to have a life to live in the first place. Not to get all Edgar Allen Poe on you but my life can end at any moment at all and if I died tomorrow I wouldn’t be fulfilled, I would be very frustrated that I spent so much time trying to prepare for a life that I didn’t even get to experience yet. I have seen it happen twice. Ten years ago my Aunt had a massive heart attack out of nowhere and passed. She was thirty-two. And last fall the same thing happened to my Uncle, he was forty-five.

So yes, right then, in that moment, carrying a posterboard the size of me, running up a brick road, trying to finish a project that was due in a couple of hours, that I was behind in  because I spent so much time doing other work, and feeling completely overwhelmed, the simplicity of a squirrel hunting nuts and looking so satisfied with themselves made me suspicious of what life would be if I truly took it day-by-day.