Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews This Book Is Full of Spiders [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by David Wong, book 2 in the John Dies at the End series.
Although it’s eight years old, this is a book for our moment at the outset of 2021. I just saw the results of a CBS YouGov opinion poll asking “What is the biggest threat to the American way of life?” where a majority of respondents answered, “Other Americans” (in preference to such options as economic forces, natural disasters, foreign actors, etc.). I am not a fan of the “zombie apocalypse” genre. This Book Is Full of Spiders might well be classed as a member of that genre, but it interrogates the fear of zombies, rather than taking it for granted. The mostly-explicit conclusion involves a prehistoric dog and Dunbar’s number, and the corollaries extend to dehumanizing social conflict in general.
As a sequel to John Dies at the End, this book stands on its own just fine. It inherits from the previous volume the central characters David, Amy, and John, the weirdness of the small Midwestern city of “[Undisclosed],” and the thaumaturgy of Soy Sauce. But the plot is well contained in this book. In fact it begins with an overture to readers not to read the earlier book: “It’s better if we get a fresh start. … I’m pleased to have the fresh opportunity to try to convince you I’m not a shithead.”
It is on the comic end of the horror spectrum, with plenty of gross-out moments and hapless antics, but it wasn’t until the final sections that I got to some laugh out loud passages. I recommend this book as a sound mix of lowbrow humor, weird horror, and social commentary.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews John Dies at the End [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher] by David Wong, part of the John Dies at the End series.
The professedly unreliable narrator of John Dies at the End uses a lot of profanity. In the added apparatus for the 2020 reissue that I read, it is revealed that the “bad words” had been a source of consternation among the reading public. I don’t know–when limbs are getting ripped off, you accidentally get dosed with some unidentifiable tar-like street drug, and swarms of extradimensional bugs are making people explode, I think it’s fair for the interjections to go beyond “oh dear” and the modifiers well past “rather.”
There are a couple of direct invocations of Lovecraft, along with the sort of cosmic indifferentism (universally pervasive “apathy” as Wong would have it) that some critics attribute to Grandpa Cthulhu, but the pacing and resolutions of this story are more along Robert E. Howard lines: resilience in the face of bizarre menace, heroic dismemberment of foes, and the virtues of action over paralyzing reflection. But it’s not a pulp-retro tale at all. The setting is the 21st-century de-industrialized US Midwest with aimless 20-something protagonists thrown into a kind of post-punk Ghostbusters scenario.
Is it scary? Sort of, in the too-recognizable way that the narrator relates his epistemological uncertainty and self-loathing. Is it funny? I may not flatter myself to admit it, but I did laugh out loud at many points, whether because of the absurd events, the narrator’s deft turns of phrase, John’s dick jokes, or whatever it was. It’s buried pretty deep in the feces and wads of bloody meat, but there is even some genuine moral reflection that applies to all of us in our humanity-devouring circumstances of neoliberal overreach and ecocide.
So … recommended? I’m just not sure to whom. I own a copy of the sequel, and I might read it before the plague takes me down.