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Jan 20

Review of Resume with Monsters by William Browning Spencer for FringeWare Review #12

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. - H. P. Lovecraft Following Lovecraft, I imagine the next to oldest emotion is laughter, and the strongest kind of laughter is laughing at some fool who is afraid of the unknown. Images of cargo cultists fearfully worshipping a walkie-talkie come to mind. Regardless of which came first, the pairing of horror and comedy is a powerful one, few writers being able to pull it off with any style. William Browning Spencer, however, is one writer who excells in this difficult mixed genre. Resume with Monsters is a horrifically funny, or maybe a hilariously horrifying, book. The genius of this thoroughly entertaining novel is in pairing the horrors of the corporate workplace with the latent comedy of H. P. Lovecraft's fiction. Philip Kenan works at Ralph's One-Day Resumes in Austin, Texas as a typesetter, mostly setting up old men's retirement cards: "No Job, No Money, No Worries." The rest of Philip's time is spent watching for "signs of the Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth or his dread messenger, Nyarlathotep." He has already lost his previous job and girlfriend because of the Great Old Ones. Thinking that perhaps another person might be able to help him to figure out his strange beliefs, he answers an ad in the Austin Chronicle for a counselor. She asks him to tell her in one sentence what the problem is. "Well, I lost my job and my girlfriend left me." "Good," Lily said, nodding her head in violent affirmation as a cloud of cigarette smoke merged with her cloudy hair. "That's just what I meant. Now we are getting somewhere." "And hideous, cone-shaped creatures from outer space are going to leap, telepathically, across six hundred million years and destroy human civilization." It just came out. Spencer spins an ultrathin membrane of reality around his characters. You read along that thin line between laughter and fear, happily second guessing yourself at every turn. Is that large battered tome Philip's boss is reading really the Necronomicon or merely a bible? Is there actually a degenerate subculture of inbred office workers lurking beneath the city, or has Philip forgotten to take his medication? Are copier machines really multidimensional transportation devices for the Old Ones? Philip evokes our sympathies in the same manner as a character in a Kafka story. We want the rest of the world to believe him, to merely listen to him. But Spencer flips our sympathy over on in its back, creating an explosion of humor in the process. But our laughter is uneasy. Because if Philip is seeing the world as it really is, then fear is clearly a more appropriate emotion. The video box displayed a spiderlike thing, wrapped in the naked embrace of something resembling a giant sea anemone. On the other boxes, lurid organs caressed unspeakable appendages. Alien porn. Here the Old Ones came to satisfy their fibrillating libidos, to clatter their chitinous mandibles, to drool acid and undulate in the promise of secret, forbidden pleasures. And, of course, the corporate bigshots would have discreet access to this room. There is a fitting allegory for our all too corporate age lurking upon the threshold of this highly readable novel. I figure it out to be that the more comfortable and content you are with your place in the hierarchy of the system, the more likely it is that you are possessed by a demonic entity. At the end of Resume with Monsters, you catch yourself checking behind the curtains, under the bed, and laughing when you realize its only your imagination. But that was Lovecraft's point wasn't it? And that is Spencer's point. The evil is inside of you. The source of the fear is within. We should all go shake William Browning Spencer's hand for pointing this out to us so subtly in such an entertaining book.