Before you read this, there are a few very specific things you should know about me: I’m a Midwestern, dick-joke-loving horror slut. For that reason, there is no possible way for me to be objective in this review. With the exception that I’m not a dude, I am the target demographic for this series. My copy of John Dies at the End is one of my treasure-books. I just think it’s only right that you know these things about me ahead of time, so you don’t come at this thinking I’m some fair-and-balanced journalist-type. I’m not. I am a Follower of Wong.
So in the days before This Book is Full of Spiders landed in my lap (resulting in a gigantic lady-bone), I turbo-re-read John Dies at the End. My reasons for this were two-fold: first, I just loved it so goddamned much I wanted to eat it; second, that’s what I imagine a “real” or “good” writer would do to prepare for such an undertaking. The beautiful thing is that, on a second go-round, it held up to my nostalgia, gave me new things to love, and left me TOTALLY STOKED for the sequel, though utterly clueless as to where it would go.
With that in mind, I tried to go into TBiFoS without any baggage; even though it’s a sequel, I felt like the book should be good or bad on its own merit, and therefore considered in a vacuum. For once, it turns out I was right. So I think it’s critical to issue a warning here: this is not another JDatE. It’s got some of the same pop-horror sensibilities, but if you go in expecting it to read with the gleeful narrative abandon of the first, it’ll be a jarring experience, to say the least. This is its own animal.
The first fifteen-or-so pages can be found online, so you can click that link if you want to get a head start. If you don’t, I’ll paraphrase. A Prologue and an Epiprologue bring us up to speed on all the old-timey historical weirdness in the city of Undisclosed. Here we also learn the most recent of bizarre happenings: the wreck of an armored military-type vehicle manned by a team of GI-Joe dolls, which Dave and John witness while pissing from atop the Undisclosed water tower (naturally). Inside the truck is a box, which John steals, because he’s John.
Fast-forward to the present, in the winter after said wreck. Dave is in court-appointed therapy after shooting the pizza guy with a cross-bow (it really was a monster), and his therapist is annoyingly therapist-y. At this point, we are 48 hours prior to The Outbreak. You can envision that to be whatever you’d like. I did.
So while JDatE is The World According to Wong, TBiFoS expands its perspective to include Amy and John. It’s a simple, brilliant little narrative device that deepens every character, and a fresh way to look at that world, having spent all of the first book inhabiting Dave. Wong has a knack for grounding the ridiculous in reality, and this is one way that talent really shows itself. By far, the best of these perspectives is Molly’s; her chapter is a gorgeous one-off, and entirely too short. The story told through her eyes is, no question, some of Wong’s most artful writing thus far; it’s beautiful and unburdened by pretense, and feels like what a dog’s thoughts might actually be. It’s disarmingly sweet and surprisingly moving for a novel fraught with weiners.
So we’ve got character jumps, and then we’ve got jumps in time. We’re reminded throughout of our proximity in hours to each event – sometimes approaching the event, sometimes jumping back in time to catch a character up, as the need arises. It’s a pretty genius method of storytelling, and by default ramps up the suspense by a mile, which made it really hard for me to ever put this book down. Regular life annoyed me while I was reading it. It kept getting in the way. So if you’re anything like me, you’ll barrel straight through this book in a matter of minutes, just in time to realize you’re at the end.
The end. Holy shit. I’m going to admit something here, and you can use this information as you see fit: I wept openly at the end of this book. I don’t mean in the way that sometimes a piece of art or a bit of prose is beautiful, and it makes you well up and feel feelings. I’m talking about shameful, red-faced, ugly-crying. Having to actually seek out human contact so I could feel okay again. The ending of this book RUINED me, and while I cry about unremarkable shit all the time, this didn’t fall into the realm of the unremarkable for me. If you aren’t completely wrecked at the end, I guess I’ll owe you a coke or something. Also, it probably means you have no soul.
Really, in retrospect, it’s the perfect sequel to JDatE, in spite of – and because of – their structural differences. It takes all the range and black humor of the first book and runs with them all the way to Hell. It functions perfectly on its own, but read back-to-back with the first, each one enriches the other, and that’s a rare thing to be found in fiction anymore. Wong really shows his chops here; it’s hard to be conversational and relatable and keep track of a million callbacks and in-jokes from two different books and wrap it all in a beautiful package that can make a bitch cry. These books are just intricate as all hell and thoroughly well-planned, a massive maze of Chekhov’s guns that, more than once, made me go “HOLY SHIT!” out loud to an empty room. This Book is Full of Spiders is every bit as endearing as JDatE, but in a totally different way; it’s relentlessly surprising from the ground up, huge in scope and elegantly human. Get your hands on it. It’s a matter of life and death.
Check out Josh’s review of John Dies at the End!
Kara is a Senior Office Assistant for the Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics at Indiana University. A past English major and lifetime writer, she has also served both as an actress and behind-the-scenes assistant for several projects with our friends at Clockwerk Pictures. Kara lives with her husband in Bloomington, Indiana. In her spare time, she is a freelance editor/proofreader for international students at Indiana University, and serves as an organizer of the Dark Carnival Film Festival (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com).