Those familiar with Cracked.com perhaps know what to expect from a book by its senior editor Jason Pargin, aka David Wong. Then again, maybe not. His first book, John Dies at the End, wasn’t just brilliant for its off-beat sense of humor, but for the true sense of horror that he created. It’s hard to imagine a book that makes someone laugh out loud while simultaneously feeling like the universe is full of angry, real, demons, but Wong succeeded.
The sequel, This Book Is Full of Spiders, doesn’t quite match that success. Published in October 2012, Spiders creates the same sense of horror and tension, but the humor is dialed down. It seems strange to say that about a book where the antagonists include a turkey Voltron and a monster called Halfface Firefighter Bloodyhead Spinbones, but it’s impossible to match the frenzied, slaphappy mess of penis jokes and puns that constitutes the first book. There’s no scene to match, for example, John taking out a room full of monsters with a folding chair, shouting out terrible puns with each blow (“Have a SEAT!”). There’s no “That door cannot be opened” (just read the book).
Part of what made John Dies at the End so great was the dynamic between John and David. John’s confident zaniness was the perfect counterbalance to David’s dark cynicism. The two are separated for much of Spiders, and they’re just not as interesting on their own.
On the other hand, Spiders is more of a coherent book, with a beginning, middle, and end. John Dies at the End, originally published online as a serial, skipped from scene to scene: Las Vegas to the Mall of the Dead to an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere to an alternate reality where nurses hand you kittens instead of bandages to make you feel better (part of the reason the movie came across as rather spastic). Spiders takes place almost exclusively in Undisclosed, U.S.
For all its flaws, Spiders is equally hard to put down. Glance at the first page or two and you’ll probably keep reading, and most likely finish it in a few days (that, or drop it immediately, which I suppose would be the sensible thing to do as it is full of spiders).
But I probably won’t be reading it again, and again, and again, as I know I will with John Dies at the End. Maybe just once again for Spiders. Or twice, for that scene where John freezes time and takes down a monster using only his pants.
by Jen Matteis