Exuberantly odd and emotionally daring stories follow a cast of engaging characters through small-town Texas in Founds’ debut collection.
In the first story of this unusual collection, Laura Freedman asks her high school English class to write about their favorite mystical creatures solving the greatest sociopolitical problems of our time. The resulting vignettes—in which a sphinx solves loneliness, a giant squid stops a pregnancy, and a phoenix rescues Ms. Freedman herself from Texas—introduce a young teacher, on her way to a crushing breakdown and a stay in an insane asylum, and two of her students, the disaffected Janice Gibbs and the irrepressible Cody Splunk. Founds follows the lives of these characters through 24 other stories that range in form from email conversations to journal entries to recipes from a fundraising cookbook assembled by a Methodist women’s society. While the structure and tone vary widely, with some stories approaching self-conscious acrobatics, the characters stay vivid throughout, and Founds handles both unhappy and absurd elements with wit, humor and compassion. In “Frankye,” a psychiatric journaling exercise forces Ms. Freedman to write about her young self losing unconditional love via time and regret. Cody and Janice perform two versions of a friendly rescue—one capering and slapstick, one banal—in “Mexico Foxtrot Rides Again,” and they face murderous biblical wax figurines in “In the Hall of Old Testament Miracles.” Each story adds a layer of feeling, understanding and history to the characters as they slide back and forth through time and relationships. They handle, gracefully, the whiplash switch between depression and hilarity, between the ghost of a suicidal mother and a love-struck boy promising to invent a time machine.
A surreal, dark and very funny collection that has the emotional punch of a novel.