"What the Hell Did I Just Read" Book Review
Written by Greg Fisher
Published by St. Martin's Press
Written by David Wong
2017, 384 pages, Fiction
Released on October 3, 2017
Even detractors of David Wong's (real name Jason Pargin) writing can admit two things: he has a way with similes, and he is downright consistent. For his third book in the John Dies at the End series, he keeps the crazy humming right along. His roots writing and working as executive editor for Cracked.com are on full display again, with some parts (both to good effect and sometimes detrimental) reading like any given article found on the site. For those not familiar with that vernacular, insert bizarre colorful descriptions alongside pop culture references and obscenities and the reader will be partway there.
As for the novel, it expands upon the adventures of fictitious versions of Wong and Cracked's content editor John Cheese (real name Mack Leighty) that started in John Dies at the End and continued in the second novel, This Book is Full of Spiders. One need not necessarily read either of the preceding books to enjoy this one, as this does a decent job bringing them into the world and its characters without beating them over the head with exposition. Wong and Cheese work in an unnamed town as paranormal detectives of sorts. Wong is the sane side of the duo, while Cheese is often inebriated from many different sources and tends to be as stable as 50-year-old dynamite in a microwave. The two are contacted about a case involving the suspicious disappearance of a child. Her father relays a recent experience where a mysterious and deranged stranger stalked the house and offered to buy his daughter, and the detectives begin down a path only Wong (the writer) could concoct. Interspersed the story are chapters dictated by Cheese to Wong from Cheese's warped lens, which are worth the price of admission on their own. Even trying to shine up his own image through massively distorted hubris, Cheese still comes across as gleefully deranged.
That phrase in and of itself could handily explain the tone of the novel as a whole. Cheese works well in the long-form novel by not working at it. He strings together vignettes and scenes that amount to an overarching whole. The sci-fi/ horror scenes he portrays are dazzlingly unique, and one wonders just what fever dream must have pawned them. Even those only familiar with Wong's work through horror icon Don Coscarelli's film adaptation of John Dies at the End can see this. Cascarelli was able to simply dice up the short stories and stitch them up into the whole. Wong, as he did with This Book is Filled With Spiders, shows more growth towards fleshing out the scenes and running a (mostly) coherent through line through What the Hell Did I Just Read. He also has honed his skills at those beautiful, dark, insane, and weirdly intimate vignettes, creating something truly signature and enjoyable. As stated previously, the reader need not seek out the two previous novels before diving into this one, but why deny the pleasure of living in Wong's twisted mind a bit longer?