by David Wong
My friend recently- ok, a while ago- recommended This Book is Full of Spiders to me, and since I take requests, I picked it up. My inner completist wouldn’t let me read the second book without reading the first, so here we are. Ok, yes, these books are totally discrete and I was totally planning on reviewing them separately. You should know how lazy I am by now, though, so whatever.
David Wong, aka Jason Pargin, is a Cracked writer and blogger who’d apparently begun John Dies at the End as a web serial that eventually morphed into a book and movie. If you don’t know, Cracked is like Buzzfeed for people that can read. (Just kidding Buzzfeed, you know I love you.) My favorite Cracked article of all time, “The 7 Biggest Dick Moves in the History of Online Gaming,” is illustrative of the site’s general style: profane, irreverent, and hilarious. That article wasn’t written by Wong, but I wanted to a) show you the type of content found in Cracked articles and b) explain why I was skeptical of books by a Cracked writer. I’d read several of Wong’s articles and seen his pleas to purchase these books, but I really had no clue what they were about, and I frankly doubted his ability to keep my interest for a full novel. The irony of a blogger eschewing a book simply because it was written by a blogger does not escape me.
It would be utterly pointless to try to describe the plot of John Dies at the End, so I won’t. Alright, I’ll give it a shot. It’s basically Ghostbusters meets Men in Black, but in novel form. Our hero, Wong himself, goes to a party with his best friend John, who ends up taking a drug called Soy Sauce with a bunch of kids who happen to die the next day. Long story short, they end up with a special sensitivity to the supernatural, which works out, because their town is basically the Hellmouth. (Wong, seemingly reluctant to namedrop his hometown, refers to it only as Undisclosed, and describes it as the shittiest midwestern city you can imagine.) They keep having strange adventures and eventually confront Korrock, the extraterrestrial who is presumably behind all of their town’s troubles. Oh, and Dave ends up dating Amy, a former special-ed classmate with only one hand.
While the first book is an origin story that’s broken up into two or three main sections, This Book is Full of Spiders has only one major plot, and yes, spiders are involved. Inter-dimensional spiders, or something like that. Dave’s home is infested with the things, which then ransack the town and force the government to set up a quarantine zone in Undisclosed. Most of the book follows Dave and Co’s desperate attempts to save their city from being firebombed into oblivion.
Despite my skepticism, I gotta say that Wong’s books were good. Really good. I mean, you might have to get used to the B-movie horror stuff- like the Meat Monster, a humanoid demon whose body is made up of various frozen meats. You might need to adjust to the quirky humor- the possessed character with a penchant for punching his enemies in the dick, for example. But once in a while it’s fun to sink into the craziness. And to be honest, if you’re reading these books and didn’t expect an extra helping of insanity, just based off of the titles alone, I don’t know what to tell you.
I think these books work so well because Wong can actually write. Not to harp on the blogger thing, but a novel is really structurally very different from a blog post, and I doubt it’s easy to move from one format to the other. Wong, however, pulls it off really well. John doesn’t have a typical structure, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing here; the novel’s first half is a roller coaster ride of weirdness and horror, reflecting the experiences of our protagonists. And anyways, I’m guessing that writing a story as a series of blog posts over the course of several years is always going to result in an off-kilter novel.
Here’s my main gripe (and mid-major spoiler): why does it have to be fucking zombies? I’m so sick of the zombie thing. I mean there’s World War Z, Walking Dead, Call of Duty, whatever else people like these days- just, why? In This Book is Full of Spiders the main plot is, yes, driven by the titular spiders- but it’s really zombies! The spiders nest inside people’s skulls and turn them into zombies, which makes me think a more accurate title would’ve been This Book is Full of Fucking Zombies: Because Fuck You. I think Wong had a little bit of fun with it, though, poking holes genre’s tropes and introducing a zombie-obsessed group of college kids for us to mock. So at least he knows it’s been done. Still: fucking zombies, man.
Wong creates his own creepy and hilarious horror aesthetic, and he does it really well. These books kept me riveted and banished my doubts about whether he could actually write novels. Seriously, Wong is a credit to bloggers everywhere.