SYNOPSIS: Unlikely heroes Dave and John unwittingly bring about the “zombie” apocalypse. Faced with an impending doom of a ridiculous nature the two must get to the bottom of the mystery and save the world.
PROS: Side-splitting laughs, nail-biting horror, heroes worth cheering for, and a homemade triple barrel shotgun.
CONS: It ends.
VERDICT: Kevin Smith’s Clerks meets H.P. Lovecraft in this exceptional thriller that makes zombies relevant again.
Some time has passed since the events of John Dies at the End. Dave is happily dating Amy and undergoing court-ordered therapy for shooting a pizza deliveryman with a crossbow. John is mooching off others and peeing off of water towers. Molly the dog is eating what ever food Dave drops on the floor. Life is never good in [Undisclosed] but for the moment it is relatively peaceful. That is, until Dave and John become pawns in a sinister science experiment set in motion by the Shadow Men. As the result of gross incompetence and a lack of foresight these two white-trash monster hunters unleash havoc upon the world. Despite a penchant for making mistakes it falls upon Dave and John to wrong the rights and fight evil.
John Dies at the End by David Wong (pseudonym of Jason Pargin, Senior Editor and columnist for Cracked.com) was the best book I read in 2010. On my list of favorite books of all time it is near the top. By the time I encountered it there were already a legion of diehard fans and talk of a film adaption by Don Coscarelli, the director of Bubba Ho-Tep. So I was late to the party but I sought to remedy that with the sequel, This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It. I was honored to receive an ARC that I promptly read cover to cover.
At its essence This Book is Full of Spiders reads like a 400 page Cracked.com article with a plot. This is said with the utmost awe and respect. Cracked.com is a site that frequently supplies some of the funniest (and scariest) material available on the Internet. Wong (let’s call him Wong so as not to dilute the magic) has taken his experience with the website and wields it as a weapon of mass amusement. Initially the concept of comedy and horror blended into one book seems preposterous. It’s like putting peanut butter and pickles on the same sandwich. Separately peanut butter and pickles are great foods but combining them is a wee bit sacrilegious. Not so with a comedy/horror mash-up. These two genres make perfect companions.
The R-rated college humor is an ideal foil to the mind-numbing dread. It doesn’t hurt that Wong is a professional comedic writer. I wanted to see how far into the book I could get before I crossed a page that did not have me laughing. It took 25 pages before I met such a page. This Book is Full of Spiders is primed with guffaws. From the dialogue to the descriptions, lines are delivered with faultless timing and wit. Wong never has to reach for comedy, it flows naturally with nary a stumble.
Wong has taken zombies (well, they’re not really zombies but for lack of a better word) and made them scary again. More importantly, however, Wong has made them relevant again. At the risk of sounding like a complete and utter hipster, I was into zombies before they were cool. In the time since then zombies have experienced a colossal boost in popularity. You can’t swing a crowbar without hitting a movie, book, or videogame featuring zombies. The market is saturated to the point of bursting with undead and the last thing I wanted was to read another zombie apocalypse.
The thing is, Wong is too crafty to just write a traditional zombie apocalypse. This Book is Full of Spiders examines all the ways in which our geeky zombie apocalypse fantasies probably wouldn’t happen as imagined. It is a sobering thought to say the least. Wong also observes the origins of “zombie” mythology but the real kicker comes with the realization that it is human paranoia, rather than zombies, that is the real monster. Wong couldn’t possibly have planned for this book to come out only months after the “bath salt zombie” media frenzy (unless he is secretly responsible) but it adds a whole extra layer of significance. Thinking back it is eerie how similar the public reaction was when compared to how this story unfolds. Wong made some accurate predictions or he is an evil genius of some sort. My money is on the latter. This assessment of our society’s addiction to crisis and the prevalence of zombies in pop-culture make This Book is Full of Spiders the most pertinent story of the genre since George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.
Dave and John are professional screw-ups of the highest degree but I challenge you to find more endearing characters. These are two unlikely heroes with an aversion to responsibility but are thrust into the role of saviors of humanity after taking the magical drug, Soy Sauce. Dave is the more mature of the duo (though this is measured in minute increments) and always the voice of reason (sort of). John on the other hand is reckless to the core and just the sort of friend you want backing you in a brawl. As great as Dave is there is just no beating John. He may not top a list of responsible role models but he is the patron saint of giving evil the finger. This time around Amy, Dave’s girlfriend, gets a bigger piece of the action. It would have been easy to relegate Amy to a supporting role but Wong writes her as a strong character that is every bit as capable as her male cohorts, if not more so. The relationship between the noticeably damaged Dave and sweet as sunshine Amy is charming in no small measure. All three characters get a POV (as well as brief but hilarious excursion from the perspective of the dog Molly) and each one is developed and distinctive.
This Book is Full of Spiders is a tighter, more concentrated read than John Dies at the End. As great as John Dies at the End is there were times that it became difficult to follow with the way it jumped around. The sequel does not suffer the same shortcoming. This Book is Full of Spiders is a single large event rather than the series of related smaller events that is John Dies at the End. There are still time and narrative shifts but the general arc remains uncluttered and coherent. There is a touch less absurdity to be found this go around however. Some are bound to find this a drawback but because of the focused nature of the story I can’t fault Wong.
I can only see the cult following growing with the release of the sequel. David Wong (Jason Pargin) is a fantastic author with a supernatural talent for humor.If you want a poignant, laugh-out-loud funny, disturbing, ridiculous, self-aware, socially relevant horror novel than This Book is Full of Spiders is the one and only book for you.