‘If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe’ Delivers More Hilarious Chills From Jason Pargin

If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe is the fourth entry in Jason Pargin’s John Dies at the End horror-comedy series, and it is somehow, by some miracle, just as good as the rest of the books. For those not in the know, the series focuses on the episodic adventures of John, Dave, and Amy. John and Dave were once exposed to a substance known as Soy Sauce, a sentient black drug that sends its users on a trip through dimensions, timelines, or anything else the plot might require. And the after-effects are that they can now see supernatural phenomena that others can’t. Amy is Dave’s girlfriend and serves as the smart one between the three of them, often coming up with practical solutions to seemingly unanswerable problems. Together they form a team of low-income ghostbusters —always starving, but often the only people for the job.

Before we continue, please note that I will be talking about very mild spoilers for the early sections of the novel. I won’t be discussing any late-stage developments, but it’s impossible to discuss this story without giving a few early details away.

Cover for If This Book Exists You're in the Wrong Universe shows a book made of Soy Sauce and a black skull at the bottom
Image courtesy of the author.

The fact that the rules of this universe are so loose means that Pargin lets his freak flag fly with every new entry. The stories are largely stand-alone, and the dubious, unpredictable nature of Soy Sauce means that you never know what the next adventure has in store for our trio. In If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe, the conflict involves a cult of surly teenagers who believe we live in a simulation, so they’re feeding human body parts to an entity known as Xarcrax. The thing is that Xarcrax lives in plastic toys that connect to an app that millions of kids around the world adore. John Dave and Amy are on the case, and as always, unpredictable hilarity and horror ensue.

The great thing about this series is that each story touches on some very fundamental fears and flaws that we as a species have. It pokes fun at us, letting us laugh at how insecure and imperfect we are while also presenting an extremely entertaining story. You would think that Pargin might be struggling to find new conflicts to put these characters through four books deep, but this entry feels just as refreshing and funny as the previous three novels.

For instance, the opening chapter is actually a list of advertisements for a few of the various haunted items that Dave has accrued from fans over the years. This is immediately followed up by a chapter apologizing to a family for the way in which the crew destroyed their cooler. See, they really had no other choice, as there was a parasite attaching itself to a dude that detached itself and ran amok at the Undiclosed’s (the trio’s hometown that never gets a proper name) Fourth of July celebration in the woods. It was either use their cooler to contain the beast or let everyone get impregnated by it and cause another colossal sh*t show.

As always, Pargin’s narration as Dave is a fantastic mixture of biting sarcasm and real cynicism. The group hasn’t even reached age 30 and Dave has the world-weariness of someone five decades his senior. A part of this is the town he lives in; as always, Undisclosed and its citizens are just as much a character as any person with a name, and the place is both depressing and hilarious. Pargin has never been shy about describing poverty in either of his book series, often pointing to how people find themselves in bad financial situations and the often humorous results of said situation. And Undisclosed is even worse than your average American ghost town since it’s a hotspot for supernatural shenanigans that are often just as stupid as they are horrific.

Something that’s become clear is that Pargin has become very interested in practical solutions to the problems his books explore. His previous novel, Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick, focused very heavily on the power vacuum and conflict that arose from the first novel’s violent conflict. Instead of being another hyper-violent piece of cyberpunk, though, Zoey Punches the Future instead focused on finding an actual answer to the questions of wage inequality it explored. Similarly, If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe explores the ways that humans inflict pain upon each other and the cause of that. I can’t say too much as it would give away many late-stage revelations, but this is probably the most genuinely heart-felt entry in the series yet, which is a weird thing to say about a book that features a creature made of tongues sucking the eyeballs out of people’s skulls. It’s unafraid to directly address issues of trauma and how people can go about healing from it. It’s also unafraid to tell us about John’s self-published collection of erotic poetry.

To say much more would spoil a lot of the little surprises contained within the novel. Suffice it to say that this is yet another hilarious and scary work from an author who has perfected the art of mixing absurdity with existential terror. I’m not quite sure where this series will go next, as the ending here feels like the characters have truly changed. But I’m not saying this as a bad thing—the unpredictability of this series is a huge part of its appeal, and I’m along for the ride thick or thin. This novel is a decent place to start if you’re curious about the series, but it will be more rewarding for those who have read the previous works. Regardless of how you choose to read it, though, If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe is an extremely entertaining and at times emotional ride.

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Written by Collin Henderson

Collin has loved all things horror since he was a wee lad, as long as it's not filled with jump scares. He holds up It Follows as the greatest horror film ever made, and would love to hear your thoughts on why he's wrong about that. He's written a couple of books called Lemon Sting and Silence Under Screams, and lives in Massachusetts.

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