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What the Hell Did I Just Read
by David Wong
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I really enjoyed this episode in the series. it made me laugh out loud multiple times. This entire series has been a really fun read.
The third "John and Dave" cosmic horror-comedy novel is a little closer in spirit to the first than the second, I think. The central cast of Dave, John, and Amy is unchanged. The setting in the small Midwestern US city of "[Undisclosed]" this time features riparian flooding as a difficulty (unremarkable climate change and infrastructural neglect) incidental and basically unrelated to the main threat of invasion by mind-controlling entities from another dimension.
This volume's slightly lower overall count of dick jokes is more than compensated by a correspondingly higher number of ass jokes. It reads at a hectic pace. Readers who enjoyed the previous books should appreciate this one too, and while This Book Is Full of Spiders is certainly worth reading, it would be possible to read this third book directly after John Dies at the End with no greater sense of disorientation than the books deliberately offer in their published sequence.
In an afterword in his own voice, writer Jason Pargin sets aside his David Wong character to remark that he doesn't view the three books as a completed trilogy, and to offer some earnest words about mental health, lest anyone take the wrong lesson from his stories of flawed reality-testing--as he seems to think that certain of his correspondents have done.
Okay, I've been sitting on this half-done review for a month, here goes.
Though the stakes are still technically the fate of the world, this installment felt a bit pared-back compared to the first two in the series, dealing with mostly the same crew of characters and steadily rainier Undisclosed setting for the whole book. For the most part, this is welcome, since trying to go bigger and bigger with each book is impossible to maintain. However, some of the old tricks from the first two books are starting to wear a little thin (mind-altering monsters, the soy sauce antics, and even, to a certain extent, the dynamic between the main three characters). I still definitely enjoy those parts of the book-- they just don't feel as fresh or exciting as they did in JDATE or TBIFOS.
I know there are people who have docked their ratings of this book for the teenageish gross-out humor/dick jokes stuff and, conversely, people who have decried the "PC gone wild" (sigh) approach to depression and Dave's emotional health. Personally, I think that the relationship between these two very different aspects of the story is at the heart of what makes the first book so good, and while it's handled a little more clumsily here, is still vital to the series.
The perspective shifts between our three main characters, and resultant unreliable narration, was a cool concept (used previously in the series a couple of times with John) but I'll admit I was expecting there to be a big payoff to the conceit, like a hidden fourth character perspective or even just a really shocking contrast between two unexpectedly different perspective scenes. Instead it was used more subtly, for humor and to reinforce some worldbuilding stuff. Also, I think John and Amy's dynamic is one of the most interesting in the series, and this would've been a great opportunity to explore it, but oh well.
In general, I find it a little hard to organize all my thoughts on this book, both because as always it's such a wild ride, and because it's intertwined so much with my half-remembered impressions about the previous books. Overall, I thought it was funny and exciting and good, with at least a couple really striking emotional beats. Like with JDATE and TBIFOS I read it in under twenty four hours, so you know it still grabbed me-- but just not as much as the first two did.
Would recommend this book for anyone who has read the first two. If you haven't, but this one sounds like something you'd like, go back and start with John Dies at the End. If this doesn't sound like something you'd like, you're almost certainly right.
I love that macabre humor from David Wong. I’ll always say this guy deserves more accolades and notoriety for the books he writes. There are so many books that are trying to be Victorian prose and stylistic word poems and post-modern literary realism and there’s nothing for the reader that just wants a good time. Just because something’s old doesn’t mean it has value. Don’t be The Exorcist, be The Evil Dead. Books should be fun, not homework.
That said, it’s the “least good” of the JDATE books. Maybe because there are several Deus ex moments that ruin the stakes. And some plot elements that don’t fit in, don’t make sense. It’s borderline bizarro fiction, so things that don’t make sense are par for the course (like a Santa Claus made of sausages). But when they affect the consequences or challenges of characters in the narrative, when they scoop them out of trouble, that’s where I have a problem. It’s cheap to say “I set this up while I was on a drug bender where I don’t remember anything, and now it shows up to save us.”
It’s not as erratic or short attention span as the first book, but also not as cohesive and linear as the second one. It’s a mix of the two.
It's the story "They" don't want you to listen to. Though, to be fair, "They" are probably right about this one. To quote the Bible, "Learning the truth can be like loosening a necktie, only to realize it was the only thing keeping your head attached." No, don't put the book back on the shelf - it is now your duty to purchase it to prevent others from listening to it. Yes, it works with audiobooks, too, I don't have time to explain how. While investigating a fairly straightforward case of a shape-shifting interdimensional child predator, Dave, John, and Amy realized there might actually be something weird going on. Together, they navigate a diabolically convoluted maze of illusions, lies, and their own incompetence in an attempt to uncover a terrible truth they - like you - would be better off not knowing. Your first impulse will be to think that a story this gruesome - and, to be frank, stupid - cannot possibly be true. That is precisely the reaction "They" are hoping for.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.6Literature English (North America) American fiction 21st Century
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It's not something I usually go for, but I'm glad I gave it a go regardless! ( )