David Wong’s “John Dies at the End” and “This Book is Full of Spiders”

by Jess

C. and I just finished two mind-blowing novels written by David Wong, the author surrogate of Cracked.com editor Jason Pargin. I wouldn’t really know how to characterize them other than director Don Coscarelli’s apt description of Wong’s writing as “a mash-up of Douglas Adams and Stephen King”: funny and weird and scary all at once. I loved them both (though they are about as far a departure from what I’ve been reading lately as you could imagine), the strange dreams I had after reading late into the night notwithstanding.

There is a brief but highly informative write-up of John Dies at the End on Cracked.com. The plot summary of this “gonzo horror novel” is as follows:

The main character–who though named David Wong, is not a biographical representation of the author–and his best friend–named John–stumble across a drug called Soy Sauce that lets them have out of body experiences. Then they are attacked by monsters and stuff. Dave kills a dude.

They find out the world is being attacked by a Lovecraftian god named Korrok, whose godhood has not saved him from being totally retarded. Dave must overcome Korrok’s dark and invisible army, while overcoming his own personal demons. His primary demon is the fact that he just doesn’t give a shit.

Though I loved both the books, tore through them frantically to see what bizarre plot turn was coming next, I actually preferred This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It. This review nicely sums up why Spiders is a better read than JDATE, although I would recommend them both, and I’d recommend that you read them in the order they were written; I like the character development you get moving from one book to the next.

Both books were laugh-out-loud funny. His line-by-line writing is hysterical, full of small, insanely original and creative turns or phrase or metaphors. I’ve already returned my copies to the library but a cursory interwebs search turns up some of the following gems:

  • He made the engine growl and told the headlights to fuck the night.
  • I can tell you about them, about the… things in the shadows. But this is your warning. Once you know them, they’ll know you, too. And they’re a bunch of assholes.
  • This was a special year because they were in the process of tearing down that old water tower to build a new, more modern one and it didn’t look like the new one was going to have the kind of platform that you could piss off of, because this is no longer a world of men.
  • And watch out for Molly. See if she does anything unusual. There’s something I don’t trust about the way she exploded and then came back from the dead like that.
  • There is no word in the English language for the feeling someone gets when they suddenly realize they’re standing next to an unholy monster impersonating a human. Monstralization, maybe?
  • On Judgement Day, I’d be able to proudly state that when I thought the hordes of Hell were coming for a local girl, I stood ready to shoot at them with a small-caliber pistol.
  • I don’t know if I’m up for this. I feel stretched out, like too little butter scraped over too much waffle. And then it all falls down into one of the waffle holes and there’s none left for the rest of the waffle and you sort of have to tilt it to make it run out…

And besides all the penis jokes and general strangeness, there’s a deeply philosophical undercurrent to everything. I liked Spiders because of the zombie-like apocalypse scenario he constructed (I’m a sucker for zombie stories anyway) with the added twist that some people were infected without showing any signs — and who possibly never would show any signs. So the moral quandary the characters are left with is: do you exterminate a human being on the grounds that s/he may possibly become dangerous at some point in the future or do you wait for that eventuality and possibly get killed and allow the infection to spread further? This quote, from Spiders, I found chilling: “The zombie looks like a man, walks like a man, eats and otherwise functions fully, yet is devoid of the spark. It represents the nagging doubt that lays deep in the heart of even the most zealous believer: behind all of your pretty songs and stained glass, this is what you really are. Shambling meat. Our true fear of the zombie was never that its bite would turn us into one of them. Our fear is that we are already zombies.”

The worst part about reading these books has nothing to do with the books and is simply that I have to put them down and move on to Middlemarch for book club. It has put me soundly to sleep a few times now, that is, when I’m not throwing up in my mouth over the chauvinism of the day. Here’s a Middlemarch quote for you to chew on: “But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”