Author : Kathleen Founds
Publisher : University of Iowa Press
Publication year: 2014
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.
When Mystical Creatures Attack! Is a tale about three unique people consist of Janice, Cody, and Ms. Freedman. To be honest, it’s difficult for me to make a summary of this book. There’s a lot going on in this book. It feels like they are all over the place. The story itself is told in form of letters, essays, emails, even recipes. So that’s new and interesting. But sometimes I found this writing style confusing. In some chapters, the author is using a first POV but she used second person pronouns. For example, a chapter is told from Janice’s eyes. Instead of using ‘I’, the author used ‘you’. I don’t know if the author is just being experimental or intends to make the story more personal to the readers. For me, it’s confusing and it bothered me so much.
I still like other chapters though. I like the first chapter where there are essays about how your favorite mystical creature can resolve the sociopolitical problem. I think it’s clever and funny. Then there’s a chapter which is described as ‘a fundraising cookbook assembled by the Methodist Women of Piggot, Kentucky’. The chapter basically consists of several recipes written by the characters of the book. These recipes often have sarcastic or weird names such as ‘Lamb of God Chops’. The preparation instruction of the recipe itself is actually metaphors of the character’s story. I found that hilarious and weird at the same time.
As for the characters in the book, there’s nothing that I could catch about them except that they have some sort of mental illness. Since the chapters are not written in conventional way, I can only learn about the characters in bits and pieces. Also, there’s no clear separation which chapter is whose. The chapters bounce from one character to another so I had to figure by myself whose voice is speaking. I end up seeing Janice and Ms. Freedman as one character.
All in all, I think When Mystical Creatures Attack! Is a book that you’re either gonna like or not. Unfortunately I fall in the later category. But if you’re open to some weird experimental writing style about mental illness, then this book is for you.
I received a free copy of this book via Netgalley.