I’m not sure what I was expecting when I picked up John Dies at the End. I think maybe a little bit of Welcome to Night Vale mixed with Sandman Slim, and possible a bit of Men in Black. This book is not any of those things, either in combination or alone. I should also admit that I have not seen the movie, don’t remember having heard of it before, and definitely have no plans to ever watch it now. I did not really enjoy this book much.
The sad thing is that the premise is promising, and the back cover blurb is really intriguing in terms of both voice and content. Honestly, I think what I was really hoping for was that voice to reflect the overall novel. The blurb begins: “STOP: *You should not have touched this book with your bare hands. *No, don’t put it down. It’s too late. * They’re watching you.” The actual novel begins with that same voice, but then segues into a violent, repetitive, confusing sequence that basically follows the same pattern, over and over. John and David get into some weird supernatural-seeming trouble, much gore ensues as they eventually figure out the alien-ish thing that is going on, several of the main characters die, and the final whatever it was is vanquished. Maybe. Then suddenly, everything resets, and the whole thing repeats. Repeatedly. Until the very end, where the frame story of John revealing his tale to a reporter takes an admittedly unexpected turn, but one that’s too obviously borrowed from a certain movie that came out 10 years before the novel was first published but that I will not be naming on account of spoilers. I admit I did not see the finale coming in either the movie, which did it first and better, or here. But once revealed, the conclusion and the feeling of lack of originality bothered me.
What also bothered me is how certain plot points are ignored while others are eventually resolved. For example, take the Sullivan siblings. Big Jim is one of the participants in chronological the first adventure when a group of misfit losers come into contact with ‘the Jamaican’ through whom several of them encounter “soy sauce” which is either a hallucinogen or something which awakens a third eye of sorts, allowing for the unseen horrors of the world to be more seen. Somehow, at some point in the various episodes, something happens to Big Jim which is never explained. His sister ‘Cucumber’ whose real name is eventually revealed becomes a main character in the last general episode, and there is much detail about what happens to and with her.
I was hoping for some humor to go with the weird, or at least some kind of point. Nope. There isn’t even much attention to character development because every time things seem to be developing on a personal level, there’s a reset. The thing that I’m now stuck with is figuring out: do I want to read the sequels? The whole reason I picked this one up was because I’d seen both What the Hell Did I Just Read, and This Book is Full of Spiders and thought they looked interesting. Now, I’m not so sure.