“A lot of times,” Helen Phillips said, “magic can serve to make a metaphor literal.” She made the remark before reading five stories “full of monsters and stuff” from her new book, And Yet They Were Happy, at the Franklin Park reading series last night. The event was called “Myth and Magic,” and featured five authors whose work, in some way or another, transcends reality—though, as the hostess said, “fantasy really is a comment on our reality.”
Phillips’ two-page stories read like quick nightmares, filled with wit and creepy illogic; one, “Monster #2,” was based on an eerie dream she’d had as a 10-year-old. “That one scares me!” she said, after the audience had gasped at its conclusion. Ned Thimmayya read from a work in progress about the origins of a monster catfish, before reading “an old ghost story” (in which he repeatedly pronounced “pond” to rhyme with “behind,” a kind of magic in itself) that the crowd greeted with cheers. Anthony Tognazzini announced that he had “a new story about a guy abducted by litterbugs,” but because it was too long he read instead a story that highlighted the absurdity of heredity and legacy through absurdity, telling the tale of a born-skydiver who’d rather be a zookeeper. It was softly comic yet poignantly detailed.
Alexi Zentner, hailed as the inventor of a new genre called “mythical realism,” read passages from his novel Touch, which included a sad, riveting, macabre, and harrowing scene of an accident on a frozen river. Zetta Elliott read from her YA fantasy A Wish After Midnight, a pre-9/11 story that time-travels to Civil War-era Brooklyn; she read two passages set in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, one sweet one in which a black-Latina girl gabs with an old Danish man, and another of ghostly, moonlit, time-folding strangeness. Elliott ended on a breathless cliffhanger that left the crowd scrambling for the merch table; during the break, everyone seemed to have a copy of her book tucked under their arms.
Meanwhile, I waited on line to use the bathroom for a minute, until one of the doors finally swung open—but no person emerged. The lady behind me and I looked at each other. “Myth and magic?” I muttered.