The Last Days of Jack Sparks (2016) is a unique contemporary thriller. The protagonist, Jack Sparks, was a controversial journalist, now dead. The premise of the novel is that you’re reading notes from the book Jack was writing before he kicked it, released as-is by his brother, along with notes for his agents and editor.
Jack Sparks is an interesting character. At first blush he seems similar to some real-life culture journalists. He’s a man with a unique, strong voice and a fearless desire to investigate aspects of life that most of us don’t think about. He has a huge fan base, and he obviously really likes himself (dude has a huge ego), but he’s also gotten himself in a bit of trouble. He’s a notorious drug addict, and has a tendency to close himself off to possibilities. All in all, Jack Sparks is quite repugnant and I instantly couldn’t stand him.
Which is part of why I liked him. (Weird, right?) It’s rare that an author can get me to dislike a character as intensely as I disliked this one. And part of what made him so easy to dislike wasn’t just his strong (really strong) personality, but also how real he was to me. He wasn’t just a character in a book, he was vibrant and real, and I could actually picture him trotting around the globe offending everyone he came in contact with.
The book opens up with Jack Sparks at an exorcism of a young girl in Italy. Things don’t go as planned, and while Sparks thinks it’s all an elaborate ruse, it’s really where the trouble all begins for him. He gets quite fixated, and a YouTube video goes viral on the internet and steamrolls over the book he was planning to write.
In its bare bones, The Last Days of Jack Sparks is a ghost story. Jack is being hunted and haunted by spirits and forces he doesn’t understand. There are dark passageways and spooky moments that had my skin crawling. He is determined to show that the paranormal is all a ruse, and the paranormal seems determined to show him that it’s not. It’s an interesting ideological war that he finds himself in the middle of, and he narrates it all beautifully.
As the chapters pass, readers can easily see Jack’s mind fraying. There are fewer notes to his editor, and what he’s writing transforms from a book into a sort of rambling narrative that is woven together with his personal terror that he feels so acutely readers can’t help but feel it.
At the end of each chapter are notes from his brother and his editor that show an alternate perspective to what happened. And it’s quite eye opening. Jack seems so put together, so blatantly, offensively honest. These other POVs paint another picture of him, and shed a questioning light on many of his claims — that he is drug-free, that he is sane. These portions of the book make you really question Jack, and if he is who he seems to think he is, or if the things he thinks are happening are really happening.
It’s quite brilliant. Jason Arnopp has created a book based on the idea that nothing is what it seems to be, in a pop-culture way that most everyone can enjoy or relate to. It’s a sort of cross-genre read that is part horror, part cerebral, and a whole lot of thriller. There’s a little of everything here, and the book is just as interesting as it is to watch Jack fall apart …. Or is he falling apart? The ending left a little to be desired, as I think the last part of the book sort of lost itself a little. There were some curveballs that took me out of the book a little bit.
Despite that, The Last Days of Jack Sparks was riveting in just about every possible way. Arnopp’s debut novel was a homerun for me, and well worth checking out if you’re into ghost stories that are sort of thrillers, sort of cerebral, sort of a contemporary examination of belief and the power of pop culture.