Thursday, February 11, 2010

John Dies @ the End

I just noticed that I missed noting the anniversary of this blog on February 3!

One of the odd things about reading John Dies @ the End, by "David Wong" (a pseudonym for Jason Pargin) is that John first seems to die on page 59 (but it's only an illusion), and he literally gets the last word on the final page, 371, proving that the title itself is yet another in a long line of possibly clever but ultimately headache-inducing illusions.

The book was initially written as an internet serial at www.johndiesattheend.com, and it shows. The story escalates from one bloody battle to the next, adding levels of surrealism until its readers can hardly remember what realism might have looked like.

Despite these drawbacks, however, the humorous tone of voice and the riddles kept me reading. In fact, the reason I decided to read the book was that I read the prologue, which is a riddle, and quite a peculiar and funny one.

I was amused by the tone of voice in this passage, which keeps it from being just another cliche-ridden musing on mortality:
"People die. This is the fact the world desperately hides from us from birth. Long after you find out the truh about sex and Santa Claus, this other myth endures, this one about how you'll always get rescued at the last second and if not, your death will at least mean something and there'll be somebody there to hold your hand and cry over you. All of society is built to prop up that lie, the whole world a big, noisy puppet show meant to distract us from the fact that at the end, you'll die, and you'll probably be alone.
I was lucky. I learned this a long time ago, in a tiny, stifling room behind my high school gym. Most people don't realize it until they're laying facedown on the pavement somewhere, gasping for their last breath. Only then do they realize that life is a flickering candle we all carry around. A gust of wind, a meaningless accident, a microsecond of carelessness, and it's out. Forever.
And no one cares. You kick and scream and cry out into the darkness, and no answer comes. You rage against the unfathomable injustice and two blocks away some guy watches a baseball game and scratches his balls.
Scientists talk about dark matter, the invisible, mysterious substance that occupies the space between stars. Dark matter makes up 99.99 percent of the universe, and they don't know what it is. Well I know. It's apathy. That's the truth of it; pile together everything we know and care about in the universe and it will still be nothing more than a tiny speck in the middle of a vast black ocean of Who Gives A Fuck."

The tone of one passage even reminds me of the "missing reunion scene" between Westley and Buttercup from The Princess Bride:
"We kissed and said some gooey things to each other that would sound silly if you weren't there. I stood around and waited for her to board, passing through security and letting them check her shoes and all that shit, watched her walk away and kept watching out of a terminal window as her plane climbed and turned into a speck in the sky. I didn't cry. And if you think I did, good luck proving it, asshole."

Occasionally the humorous tone of voice saves something derivative from seeming so; when the image of a man made of cockroaches threatens to become a mere imitation of the "bug man" from the movie Men in Black, the narrator says:
"you see people in horror movies standing there stupidly while some special effect takes shape before them, the dumb-asses gawking at it instead of turning and running like the wind. And I wanted to run, to do the smart thing. But this was my car, dammit." I also enjoy John's observation, as the thing drives off: "I knew that was gonna happen."

The ultimate mystery turns out to depend on an Ender's-Game-like deception, although again, the tone of voice in which this is revealed is amusing enough to defuse some of the similarity:
"I'm not tellin' you these games have been around and I'm such an old geezer that I never noticed them. These games, the devices that play them, they didn't exist before last month. And now they're everywhere, on every TV set and hey, ask around and people say they've been common for years and years. I'm a journalist, I travel, I got kids in the family, I know the world. And they didn't sell these games before, I know they didn't because it's insane that they do at all. But I start seeing the shadows move and I get up one day and suddenly every kid is glued to a box that's training him. Tell me it ain't. Millions of them, all over the country, all over the world, millions of kids spending hours and hours getting quicker and quicker on the trigger, getting truer and truer aim and colder and colder inside."

The descriptions of beings from other dimensions are entertaining, too, usually presented in terms of animal likenesses:
"The group might have either pursued him or raised their rifles to perforate his windshield had a gorilla riding a giant crab not leapt out of the woods and eaten two of them.
You heard me.
John said the thing was as tall as the truck and walked on six legs that looked horned and armored like something seen at a seafood buffet. But there was a part that had the feel of a mammal, too, fur and arms. Please remember that from John's distance the beast would have been the size of a dime, so I won't criticize his crab-riding monkey description even though we all know it's retarded."

Although this book does sometimes descend to the level of a ten-year-old boy who labels something that's not quite right "retarded," its humorous tone, the riddles, and the sheer inventiveness of the plot and characters kept me reading.

4 comments:

Lenore said...

This sounds...wierd! But in a good way :)

Jenny said...

My sister's boyfriend was reading this on our camping trip, and it looked - yeah, weird's the word I would use. It looked like it was maybe a little too excited about its own cleverness - did you feel that way?

Jeanne said...

Lenore, It is definitely weird.

Jenny, yes, it is a bit excited about its own cleverness. But it takes itself much less seriously than something like Wakefield, for example, so I wasn't too irritated by that.

Care said...

Happy Blogoversary!