Cover image for When mystical creatures attack!
When mystical creatures attack!
Founds, Kathleen, author.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Short stories. Selections
Publication Information:
Iowa City, Iowa : University of Iowa Press, [2014]

Physical Description:
162 pages ; 23 cm.
Collects humorous, whimsical, and strange stories that combine unusual subject matter with emotional expression and exhibit a broad diversity of form.
When mystical creatures attack! -- Warm greetings -- Un-game -- Before -- I have borne witness -- Turnip -- Nicoli, who was thrown to the wolves, 1874 -- Today is my birthday -- Frankye -- Recipes for disaster -- Black socketed, blind -- Wormhole -- Holy innocent -- First the sea gave up her dead -- Mexico foxtrot rides again -- Their trunks were their handles -- Virtue of the month -- Elephants never forget -- Uncommon happiness -- In the hall of Old Testament miracles -- Faux rose -- Hurry up please, its time -- Resurrection snow globe -- Like the Russian said -- Apple.
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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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.

Author Notes

Kathleen Founds has worked at a nursing home, a phone bank, a South Texas middle school, and a Midwestern technical college specializing in truck-driving certificates. She got her undergraduate degree at Stanford and her MFA at Syracuse. She teaches social justice themed English classes at Cabrillo College and lives in Marina, California, where she writes while her toddler is napping. Her fiction has been published in The Sun, Epiphany, Booth Journal, The MacGuffin , and Stanford Alumni Magazine .

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* This collection of 25 linked short stories is so well structured that readers can follow the lives of 23-year-old Laura Freedman, a high-school English teacher, and her students Janice Aurelia Gibbs and Cody Splunk in their lives in and out of school. Founds uses letters, e-mails, journal entries, recipes, and a variety of voices to bring these characters to life. Beginning with When Mystical Creatures Attack!, we discover that Laura is psychologically unstable when, after giving her high-school students an assignment to write about their favorite mystical creature, Laura herself succumbs to the beckoning of her mystical favorite, the phoenix, who flies her to Phoenix, Arizona an act that lands her in what her former student Janice describes as the loony bin. Today Is My Birthday exposes Janice's loneliness and her self-devised remedy. Janice's severe depression after forcing a miscarriage is told in second person in The Holy Innocent. The consistent quality of each story, the brilliant matching of style to story, and the lyricism of Founds' writing make this an outstanding title that belongs in every short story collection.--Loughran, Ellen Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Starred Review. Told through high school class assignments, letters, emails, private journal entries, school literary magazine submissions, advice column blog posts, and psychiatric wellness reports, the 25 linked stories in this debut collection beautifully sketch the lives of residents of a small South Texas town. Chief among them is Laura Freedman, a 23-year-old high school English teacher struggling with mental illness and her failure to "heal and transform"¿ her students, and her student Janice Gibbs, "a feral child with... an antiauthoritarian complex"¿ who becomes Laura's correspondent and confidante. Writing with compassion that never curdles into pity, Founds follows the lives of this pair for a decade, as Laura hits bottom and rebounds from incarceration in a New Age-y sanitarium, and the unmarried Janice gets pregnant and becomes addicted to painkillers. The author captures the emotional turmoil of her characters through arresting imagery-"I imagine myself sticking my hand in my ribcage, pulling out shards of colored glass,"¿ writes Laura-and offsets the darkness of their experiences with amusing scenes in which they banter with one another and ponder the absurdity of their predicaments. Founds's stories are punctuated with marvelous moments of humor and pathos, and no matter the narrative form they take, they uniformly reveal vividly realized characters with complex inner lives. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

In her 2014 John Simmons Short Fiction Award winner, Founds plays brightly and insightfully with form, starting with the opening, title story. Given the journaling prompt "Write a one-page story in which your favorite mystical creature resolves the greatest sociopolitical problem of our time," the students of high school English teacher Laura Freedman respond with pieces that are funny, touching, and sometimes disdainful; Janice Gibbs observes, "You had always been so nice, and you were acting whacked." By the second story, Ms. Freedman is desperately building up Wellness Points in an asylum based on "a capitalist model of cognitive behavior therapy." VERDICT The brief, linked pieces here are fresh, witty, and revelatory of our times. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.