Sunday, January 18, 2015

Review: When Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds

When Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds is a winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction award. Published October 1, 2014 by University of Iowa Press is a somewhat disjointed account of Ms. Freedman, a high school teacher who is also bi-polar, and some of her students. I would agree with the synopsis. Some of the novella told mostly in letters and essays is funny. Some of it is heartbreaking. Towards the end of the book it seems to get more disjointed. I attribute that to another impending psychotic break for Laura Freedman.

Synopsis from

In When Mystical Creatures Attack!, Ms. Freedman’s high school English class writes essays in which mystical creatures resolve the greatest sociopolitical problems of our time. Students include Janice Gibbs, “a feral child with excessive eyeliner and an anti-authoritarian complex that would be interesting were it not so ill-informed,” and Cody Splunk, an aspiring writer working on a time machine. Following a nervous breakdown, Ms. Freedman corresponds with Janice and Cody from an insane asylum run on the capitalist model of cognitive-behavioral therapy, where inmates practice water aerobics to rebuild their Psychiatric Credit Scores.

The lives of Janice, Cody, and Ms. Freedman are revealed through in-class essays, letters, therapeutic journal exercises, an advice column, a reality show television transcript, a diary, and a Methodist women’s fundraising cookbook. (Recipes include “Dark Night of the Soul Food,” “Render Unto Caesar Salad,” and “Valley of the Shadow of Death by Chocolate Cake.”) In “Virtue of the Month,” the ghost of Ms. Freedman’s mother argues that suicide is not a choice. In “The Un-Game,” Janice’s chain-smoking nursing home charge composes a dirty limerick. In “The Hall of Old-Testament Miracles,” wax figures of Bible characters come to life, hungry for Cody’s flesh.

Set against a South Texas landscape where cicadas hum and the air smells of taco stands and jasmine flowers, these stories range from laugh-out-loud funny to achingly poignant. This surreal, exuberant collection mines the dark recesses of the soul while illuminating the human heart.

The book says a lot about human nature. Some of it is sly observations while other parts say clearly what they mean. I enjoyed the first part of the book more than the latter part. It gets looser and more disjointed at that point. Still over all it is an interesting read. It gives insights into several characters. It's a little on the bizarre side in parts. 

I liked the format in the part of the book where it read like student essays and then emails between the teacher and a couple of her students after she is put away. Harder to follow some of her diary entries.

Overall,this is a good book. I gave it a 3.5/5 stars mostly because it gets disjointed and you can't tell what really happens in the end (or maybe it's open to interpretation?) Otherwise I probably would have given it a 4 stars. 

If you liked Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick,  you might also enjoy this book. The end of the book is really a descent into madness of sorts, where Leonard Peacock has a redemption of sorts. Still I think if you liked one you might like the other. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased opinion.

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