Welcome my dears, to another haiku review with me, Mad Martha. Today I have a book for you that is bizarre, hilarious, tragic, poignant, silly and moving all at once. Well, I suppose not all at once. In turns, perhaps. Suffice to say that Bruce and I agreed it has been the strangest and most rewarding reading experience of the year for us. Let’s take a stroll into this unusual story, shall we?
When Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds follows, in spectacularly disjointed fashion, the fortunes of (ex) high school English teacher Laura Freedman, and two of her (ex) students, Janice Gibbs and Cody Splunk. Told through (amongst other things)emails, letters, school assignments, diary entries and psychiatric hospital workbook exercises, the reader is taken on a journey with Laura, Janice and Cody as their lives ebb and flow through lunacy, partial success and embarrassing failure. Within these pages is a micro-level social history, depicting three individuals trying to eke out a satisfying existence in an uncaring universe…as well as a treatise on how mystical creatures could be harnessed to solve the problems of our time.
When life gives lemons
throw all but one at haters
then make lemonade
I know I’ve just said it, but this book really warrants saying it twice – this was both an utterly discomfiting and unutterably satisfying reading experience. I have never seen a narrative format quite like this one. The style and the format will definitely not be to everyone’s tastes, but if you are looking for a read that is out of the ordinary and as deeply thought-provoking as it is silly, then I thoroughly recommend giving this one a try.
The book opens with a selection of essays from Laura Freedman’s English class, in which she asked them to write a story in which their favourite mystical creature solves the greatest sociopolitical problem of our time. While reading essays titled, “How the Giant Squid Made Me Stop Being Pregnant” and “How the Cephalopod Balanced the National Budget”, I kind of got the feeling that this was going to be a funny book. As the second chapter segues into sections of the welcome manual for the Bridges Psychiatric Wellness Solutions residential facility, and the third leads on to email correspondence between Janice and Laura, with Janice trying to find out why her teacher suddenly left school, it becomes apparent that this story is not all it appears on the surface.
I don’t want to spoil the story too much for you, so I’m not going to give you much more detail as to the content of the book. I went into it fairly blind, requesting it for review mostly because of the title and the tantalisingly short blurb and I think that lack of knowledge really enhanced my reading experience because I got to discover the characters’ back stories without any prior knowledge. Initially it was tricky to sort out what exactly was going on, as no two chapters follow the same format and the story jumps around in both time, place and point of view, but after a while it became easier to untangle who was who and what was what. There was even a chapter written in the second-person perspective which was disorienting, but ultimately, all these twists and oddities suit the story and deeply complement the struggles of the main characters.
As a fan of books featuring themes about mental health and illness, I have to say that this was authentic in its portrayal of the far-reaching effects of mental illness and also beautifully captured the twinned senses of hope and despair that so often accompany those suffering from mental illness in various forms.
When Mystical Creatures Attack! is a beautiful piece of work that is daring in its stylistic audacity and ultimately both poignant and rewarding. Give it a go if you’re an open-minded reader who doesn’t mind leaping into the literary as-yet unencountered.
Yours in exciting new narrative,
*I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*