Reviewed by Toni Woodruff | Content warnings: COVID-19, racism
A creative & eclectic anthology of what’s hiding behind the mask
Paranoia. Pain. Loneliness. Risk. Fear. Our Magical Pandemic, edited by Jeff Ourvan of The WriteWorkshops in NYC, is a fiction anthology from workshop writers that blends genres and philosophies to tell imaginative stories about the shared experience of COVID lockdown. From J&J zombies to neighborly vampires, this book implements a number of fears, curiosities, and metaphors that accurately depict the shared trauma (and boredom) we experienced in and after March 2020.
But as I’m sure you remember, while life seemed like it would pause during quarantine, the baggage that everyday life can bring was still there. That questionable relationship you were in? You’re still in it. Those goals you had? You still have them.
One of the biggest differences in our lifestyle is that we had to add layers of anxiety, paranoia, grief, and fear on top of our already piled-on concerns. Don’t forget to wipe down your groceries! Did that person just cough in public? Hit ‘em with the evil eye and stand six feet away or else. This anthology is fill with so much of what you worried about—and still worry about—in regards to public and personal health.
There are a number of standout stories in the anthology, and they’re all great for different reasons. Some touch on the pandemic only to avoid it in the big-picture—like many people did—and others focus so hard on it that they get lost in time loops and news cycles.
“A Shape That Has No Name” by Monica Wendel does something really unique with the relationship it builds and the COVID anxieties spreading like storm clouds within a closed car on a long, already uncomfortable drive.
Another of my favorite stories is the book’s final one. In “There Will Be Flying Cars,” author Richard Jones discusses all of the ways in which our past selves (and parents) considered what the year 2020 would bring us. Not only do we consider our own thoughts and considerations of what our “future” currently is, we get to live with it for a while in what might be a vivid dream or just a compelling alternate reality filled with different answers and questions.
Some stories don’t land quite as smoothly though. Endings can appear abruptly and sometimes too reliant on a joke. As a whole, the book is not without its head-scratching takes on race and politics too. This was an emotionally charged time for so many of us, and the politics and racial discussions are impossible to escape in a book about the time, but not every story does what it sets out to do in their discussion of those topics.
The book is short and succeeds in its endeavor: immersing us in the bubbling cauldron of anxieties, fears, and boredoms of yesteryear. There are a few stories that come up short, and it makes the book as a whole a bit less impactful than it could be, but some of the best stories are those you’ll be glad you’ve read and will have reaching for a pen and paper, to remember this name.
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