When Mystical Creatures Attack!
by Kathleen Founds
Publisher: University of Iowa Press
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.
I received a copy of this ebook trough NetGalley in exchange of a honest review.
I was very curious about "When Mystical Creatures Attack!" because not only the cover was different but also the synopsis created some anticipation.
Unfortunately, this wasn't a good reading for me and I'm going to explain why. The idea of having the story told by letters, small notes, emails and similar written ways was appealing but it didn't result in a favorable way. As we are told, the story starts with the nervous breakdown of Ms. Freedman and she is sent to a clinic to treat herself. Due to her disappearing, some of her students (who actually don't have such great relationship with her) were worried and started a flow of messages that (may or may not) reached her. However, this part of the story didn't continue and went in a direction somewhat chaotic, disconnected and rushed. The messages talked essentially about things that happened in the past but that could exist as independent notes.
In a book without other ways to tell its story, the link between every passage should have been carefully thought. At the same time, there were many temporal gaps between each chapter, some shorter and others very long which (and even if they were created that way on purpose to create a dynamic in the plot) gave different rhythms to the story and an odd experience for the reader. Other thing that annoyed me was the fact that sometimes we were reading the thoughts of the characters and others the letters and there wasn't a proper identification between the two modes.
The characters, specially Janice, were not much easy to like and sometimes it was difficult to me to continue following their story. And that story even didn't followed the first plot, since (a little spoiler here so please skip ahead if you don't want to read it) the teacher disappeared in almost half of the book and we continued with that odd girl with the power to annoy me (end of spoiler).
In the end, I was expecting a book that approach mental illness with a responsible perspective, that showed with humor but responsibility that the mind is still something fragile and that some people need help to deal with that without being considered crazy. And that the help should come from concerned professionals and not from some jailers. And believe me, I saw all the metaphors and ironies and jokes created around it and the diverse tentative that Kathleen Founds did to make the book enjoyable and all the things I refereed that were needed. I just have a different vision from her and couldn't enjoy it. Maybe next time.
About the author:
Addicted to the library Claudia loves to read on the move and we can usualy find her sitting in a train or bus reading while commuting to and from work. But don't be fooled she is also keeping an eye on the landscape and all around her. She is an avid defender of sustainability and volunteering and it's as easy to find her starting a new project as it is to find her chatting with her friends. She is a dreamer and loves good stories so she keeps looking for them in her personal life.