In the epilogue of John Dies at the End, I have never been so confused by the ending of a book. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish John Dies at the End.
I think there’s only one “answer” in this epilogue, and it’s ironically found in the prologue itself.
I’ll get to that in a second. I still have questions. A lot of them. I like most of this epilogue, and I’d say I like most of this book. I’ve repeatedly mentioned that this was one of the more challenging books to write about for Mark Reads, and my opinion hasn’t changed. How do you talk about this book? It’s intricate, gross, shocking, layered, and intense as hell. I did read the Afterword upon finishing the Epilogue, and was relieved to discover how this book came together. It was, more or less, a serialized story released on the Internet! Which makes total sense once I think about it, and it explains a great deal of the pacing choices. (Also, the fact that the author is or was one of the editors of Cracked also explains most of the tone and crudeness of the book.)
I think the Epilogue as a whole is a perfect example of what the entire book is like. There is some brilliant writing here; it’s creepy; it jumps all over the place; and it asks more questions than it answers. The deliberate vagueness of this narrative is part of that challenge I spoke of when trying to write about it. I always want to give a book respect, even if I ultimately don’t like it, and try to understand what it was the author was trying to convey or get across. I mean, I did like John Dies at the End! I had problems along the way (and one issue here in the epilogue), but I’m a sucker for horror, parody, and the beautiful, beautiful pun work of David and John.
So, let’s get into this. My favorite part of this epilogue is the way in which Arnie plays his most active role in the narrative yet. It was clever of David (the writer, as I still don’t know the name of the actual author) to have David (the character) openly question why Arnie stuck around so long. This book is framed as an interview, and it had always been easy to imagine that the words we were reading were coming straight out of David’s mouth as he spoke with Arnie. So why did Arnie stick around for so long? If he truly didn’t believe David’s story, there were a ton of opportunities for him to get up and leave. When David presses the issue with Arnie, we get some of Wong’s absolute best writing.
Arnie’s character development here is a thing of wonder. (Up to a point, of course.) The only reason Arnie would stay was because he needed answers. It’s kind of a subtle commentary on the reader, isn’t it? This story is over-the-top and vulgar at times, and I’m sure that some of you either wanted to bail or did bail during the process. But even if I wasn’t writing about this book for Mark Reads, I would have stuck through it for answers. In Arnie’s case, he was drawn to David’s story in a desperate attempt to obtain justification or evidence that the weirdness of his own life had some sort of basis in reason. Of course, David can’t really give Arnie evidence because that’s not how this works. That’s always been Korrok’s advantage, you know? If the rest of the world can’t see him, his followers, or the replicants, then Korrok can quietly take over our world. I mean, can David really prove that the skeleton in the mall is his original body? No.
So I kind of adore that David asks Arnie point blank, “What did you think you were gonna find here?” The answer? Comfort. There are a lot of creepy things in John Dies at the End. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the spider trench scene or David eating a spider to save himself and there are so many spiders in this goddamn book. But I think it’ll always unnerve me that what Arnie suggests here is that at any point in this book or in our lives, history could have been erased or replaced without us knowing it. It’s almost like this fucked-up explanation for deja vú, right? What if that sensation is us recalling a deleted timeline? Arnie remembers a cat he supposedly never had. How is that possible? THE SHADOW PEOPLE TOOK FLUFFY, obviously.
I was shocked, however, that we then got to read about the days right after David discovered his own body. Wong (the author) gives these scenes the proper attention and weight in the narrative by not only dwelling on all the details and emotions, but by showing us that there is a point to this flashback. Why is David telling us? Why do we need to know this? First of all, it’s just plain fascinating. Amy’s immediate rejection of David is completely understandable because WOULDN’T YOU FREAK OUT, TOO? Even John, who later defends David, is pretty damn convinced that David is a monster, forcing Amy to use her cross to test whether or not David will explode when touched by it.
But John’s rapid change of heart is really touching to me. He’s crude and often unable to be responsible for anything, but he constantly surprises me with what a good moral friend he is to David. It’s the most fascinating thing about his characterization. And I think you can see that here once he’s able to process the fact that the version of David before him isn’t necessarily the original. He is quick to defend David, to point out that David saved them all multiple times since the alleged switch out of bodies, and that he’s proven himself to be a reliable friend. If he was evil, wouldn’t he have already revealed himself by that point? I mean, he helped them all escape from Korrok’s world unscathed!
Amy herself comes to accept that David is David, regardless of the change. When David suggests that Amy get out of town, she agrees that it’s a good idea, but it’s not long before she’s already suggesting that David stay on as a big part of her life. Initially, she wants him to come along, but that turns into constant phone calls over the course of a few months. But before we get to that point, David witnesses the horrors of what he and Robert North left behind in Korrok’s world. There’s no confirmation that Korrok itself is dead, but at the very least, the people who attacked David are dying because of the burrowing white insects. I imagine that this must have been strangely comforting once David fell asleep, knowing that the people in that world were, at the very least, preoccupied with their own survival.
But that comfort is short-lived. Oh gods, it is so short-lived. I was SO FUCKING UPSET by that scene in the fuel tank because are you kidding me?!?!?! She already survived, and they were going to kill her again? Except that I initially misunderstood the scene. Arnie had to make it clear to me:
“A threat. They were tellin’ you they can go back and make bad things happen, take your girl out of the equation. Anytime they want. So you wake up someday and see empty bed beside you and say, ‘Gosh, it’s a pity Amy died in that plane crash all those years ago.’ And you look and see all the headlines have changed and all those lives are lost and history is tweaked. Changed to suit their needs.”
WELL, THAT’S FUCKING HORRIFYING. After all they’ve done, this doesn’t end. And that is what I got from this epilogue more than anything else. This isn’t over, and it isn’t going to be over for a very long time. Even for Arnie, it wasn’t over! I was so confused at first as to the real reason Arnie was there, and once he started talking about video games, I admit to being lost. Was this some clever commentary on video games normalizing violence against other humans? No, not really. Arnie had finally come to realize the unholy power that Korrok had over their lives. How many subtle ways had he changed human history to make his arrival more possible? If that’s the case, could a time change have occurred in this very book? (You better believe that if I had the time, I would re-read this book immediately to see if that happened.)
Arnie’s purpose, then, is to reveal a plan to David, one that, for the first time, gives him hope. Oh, this is totally my favorite bit of David Wong’s writing in the whole book:
It was a sunrise, a kid’s sight of snowfall on a school morning. Hope. That all this can turn out okay, that somehow a tide this big and black can be turned back. Hope like a wildfire, thoughts of presents under a Christmas tree and a smell of cookies coming from a kitchen and a certain look in a girl’s eyes that lights you up inside. That beautiful border between nightmare and morning when you realize that all of the monsters menacing you have evaporated like smoke, leaving behind only the warm blanket and the pale sunlight of a Saturday dawn.
Which brings us to the thing. I will admit that before I sat down to write this review, the reveal of Arnie’s true identity pissed me off. It wasn’t until I thought about how John Dies at the End began that I realized that I might not have any reason to hate this choice. So, as Arnie was talking about the segregation protest, I did not have the same reaction as David did. I mention this in the fourth video, I believe, but I simply took the use of the racial slur as one of those things that bigots do because they make no sense. I’m often the victim of the wrong racial slur! Like, people can’t even be good at racism. So I figured that whoever knocked down Arnie at the protest was just lumping them in with black people, until David said:
“Describe yourself to me, Arnie. Physically, tell me what you look like.”
It just seemed so viciously unfair at the time. Well, I suppose it still is. Which is weird because that means one of the main secondary characters was technically a black man the whole time, only he was a dead one. Again, this pissed me off. If Arnie wasn’t real, then why stick around? Even worse, why did the narration continue? This whole book was framed as if David was talking to Arnie, so why did the book continue on after it was revealed that he was dead in his own trunk? I had to go back to the beginning of the book to find the answer:
The guy takes a long look at the weapon with his squisky, rotting eyes and in a gargly voice he screams, “That’s the same ax that beheaded me!”
Is he right?
I initially said yes, and I stick by this. David is an ax. Arnie was an ax the whole time. Just because their bodies were replaced, or they were half-human, does not mean that they weren’t who they always were. What helped me realize this was the fact that David said that the events in the prologue – the ax, the twice-dead man, the big slug, the monster made of meat – they were all flash forwards. That got me thinking about the beginning, and that’s how this all ties together.
Is David really David now? Or is he someone else? Was Arnie someone else? Perhaps Korrok used Arnie to bait David into trying something as foolish as using the soy sauce as evidence in some massive campaign against him, but I still think Arnie acted as if he were Arnie the whole time.
Confusing? Yes. It is confusing to me, too, and I can’t say I understand everything about this book. It wanders a lot after this point, so much so that I’m not sure I’ll ever get what this all means. I was really sad about Arnie’s death, but I was pleased by Amy’s return to the story. It was a sign that she had accepted David as being the real David, as far as she was concerned. Hell, she even asks David to marry her on the very day she moves into her college dorm! In that sense, I think there is some closure on these characters that I enjoyed. (I enjoy Amy a lot.)
But as far as the Korrok plot, there’s no closure at all. If it was Wong’s intention to lead into a sequel all along, you can certainly tell, but I don’t know that information. I mean, I was absolutely joyous to read about John and Dave casually walking into an alternate universe and then turning down the chance to save the world. It’s like they’re bored by saving the world these days, you know? It’s funny, but it felt tacked on at the end, like an afterthought. The same goes for the inclusion of part of Dr. Marconi’s book. What ever happened with Dr. Marconi? How much does he know of Korrok’s world? Truthfully, I think I would have been happy if it ended right after Amy casually proposed. But I think that’s symptomatic of the whole book. John Dies at the End wanders a lot, and the tone and pacing is all over the place over the course of the novel. In a lot of ways, this book is an experience more than anything else. I’m glad I went on it, even while acknowledging there are problems with the book. Like the fact that JOHN DOES NOT DIE AT THE END. What the fuck???
So! I will be watching the film version of this book, but due to the fact that the lovely Seanan McGuire and Sunil/spectralbovine have already claimed watching privileges with me, it’s not going to be covered officially on my sites. I probably won’t even have the time to watch it until September due to our schedules being all weird. I don’t have plans to read This Book Is Full of Spiders (Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It) for Mark Reads any time soon; when I put this book on the schedule, I thought it was a one-off. I may get to it some day, but I don’t know when that day is.
That means we are starting a new book on Monday! I am happy to say it will be N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. We’ll do the entire Inheritance Trilogy for Mark Reads, and then I’ve finally decided what will replace it: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. I’m serious. All of it. No, I have not figured out an order. Yes, I will share that order before I start. Yes, I am excited.
ONWARDS I GO.
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