Den Of Geek Book Club: John Dies At The End

David Wong's strongly written novel John Dies At The End is this month's fiction selection for the Den Of Geek Book Club...

It’s difficult for me to put my finger on why, exactly, I ultimately didn’t like this book. The prose is decent, some of it is quite funny, and no one could ever accuse it of not being unique. Those are all things I usually love in entertainment. Several twists genuinely surprised me and I found all the central characters to be likeable to some degree.

I guess my problem is with David, in his capacity as an unreliable narrator.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against having an unreliable narrator wholesale; sometimes it works in interesting ways and makes for a better story. I think my problem is the specific brand of unreliable narration David is guilty of. He admits to Arnie at one point that he exaggerates when he’s getting into the telling, as well as multiple times questioning whether or not he’s actually sane. The reveal of “monster Dave” towards the end only strengthens his unreliability, as it gives him even more motive to lie and twist the truth.

Which leads to me reading the story and constantly pausing to ask myself, “Okay, but is any of this real?” For all we know, the entire story happens in John’s head while he sits in a padded room somewhere. Which doesn’t change the content of the story per se, but it does make finding the truth of it nigh impossible.

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Maybe we’re not meant to know the truth. Maybe that’s supposed to be part of the charm. But for me, it was ultimately just frustrating. Give me the David who’s honest enough with himself to have that quiet moment of introspection about what happened when he took a knife to school over the one who’s (probably?) lying through his teeth.

Ultimately, I think the book shows a lot of promise. David Wong knows how to tell a tale and his writing is strong. This is ultimately a qualm over point of view. I’d love to read something from Wong in the future, just hopefully told through the eyes of someone a bit more trustworthy.

Aliya will be back on February the 15th with Something Like An Autobiography by Akira Kurosawa.

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