How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend by Linda D. Addison
Review by Bryan Cebulski (@BryanOnion)
Linda D. Addison is the most joyous, playful writer I’ve yet encountered on this list. Her works are funny, horrific, grotesque and farcical in both content and structure. This particular collection, How to Recognize a Demon has Become Your Friend, flipflops between short stories and poems. Her short fictions range from the amusing (ie “Excerpts from the Unabridged Traveler’s Guide as UFOs in Galaxy A.G.2”, a piece about the ethics of aliens traveling to Earth which plays on a lot of X-Files-esque alien tropes) to the tragic (ie “The Power”, about girls learning how to use witchcraft), and often incorporate elements of both (ie“Artificial Unintelligence”, wherein a typo causes an AI “human” resources department to attempt to arrest an unsuspecting woman just trying to settling her retirement plan).
The writing is at its strongest when Addison is experimenting with style. Her more straightforward short fictions aren’t terribly striking—good, sure, but nothing new, simply refining genre standards, offering the author’s interpretation of the setlist tropes. The aforementioned stories “Artificial Unintelligence” and “Excerpts” are structured as an exchange of emails and a series of entries in a sort of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy respectively. In this pieces and their ilk, Addison’s creativity and cleverness really shine through.
I’m not an expert on poetry and usually prefer straightforward prose. Increasingly, in fact, I’ve been reading nonfiction, mostly history and critical essays, so my interest in poems hasn’t been exactly at its peak. But really, as far as I can tell Addison manages some impressive work here. The poetry isn’t too purple or inaccessible to the casual reader. She never uses a more flowery word when a simple one will suffice, yet combines these apparently simple words all to create works as readable as they are evocative. “Lurid” might be the best word to describe it.
The idea of “dark poetry” inspired by horror fiction was a novelty to me at first—but after a moment’s thought I realized that authors like Edgar Allan Poe would often delve into the macabre in their poetics. Really it’s that I hadn’t heard of a contemporary author approaching the horror genre through poetry. Well, I was impressed with what Addison could do with her stanzas while working within the relatively limited thematic trappings of horror. I can’t seem to locate it now, but one poem in particular centered on a family during Halloween, and ended with a delightfully creepy twist.
As noted, Addison jumps between comedy and horror. More often though she revels within the grey area between. It’s a wonderful interplay that Addison’s writing brings to the surface—how similar these seemingly dichotomous genres can be. She, for example, makes the twist endings of horror stories into punchlines and vice-versa.
One issue with reading this collection, however: As with many collections (in fact as I’ve probably noted before) the stories and poems are pretty similar. Not bad in itself, but I read this through in about three or four sittings. To really let the writing sink in, this wasn’t the best course of action. Some poems just went in one ear and out the other, and I had to re-read them many before they really got to me. A note for readers, then, that in order to really appreciate this collection, you have to pace yourself out.