Timmy Reed - a history of the unseen world, a beautifully written surreal meditation on life and death, the distances that surround us all, and the beauty of life

The Ghosts That Surrounded Them - Timmy Reed
Timmy Reed, The Ghosts That Surrounded Them, Dig That Book, 2015.


"Reminiscent of Shane Jones and Kevin Brockmeier, but with a style all its own, Timmy Reed’s The Ghosts That Surrounded Them is a history of the unseen world, a beautifully written surreal meditation on life and death, the distances that surround us all, and the beauty of life. Reed is a real talent. I devoured this book in a single sitting, and it stayed with me like few others." - CL Bledsoe

'Timmy Reed, in the vein of Matt Bell and Blake Butler, is the literary world's next exciting wordsmith, but it is the tender care of his subjects--fragile, human ones--for which he will really be remembered." -Jen Michalski

  "Timmy Reed has a strange and wonderful imagination, one of the results of which is the beautifully haunted world of The Ghosts That Surrounded Them, a short novel that reads like a fake handbook of the world with a particular emphasis on the fascinating history of ghosts and reminds the reader of the inescapable tragedy of the human condition." -Michael Kimball

There Was a Family by Timmy Reed
Timmy Reed on “School Spirit Was/Is for Suckers”

Stray/Pest, by Timmy Reed
Timmy Reed, Stray/Pest, Bottlecap Press, 2015.

Stray/Pest contains two short stories about relationships between animals and humans, specifically teenage humans. If you are a fan of bugs, panthers, or teenagers, this book is the one for you. If you enjoy talking animals - and teenagers - in general, you will not be disappointed. If none of these things interest you - even if they repulse you due to some kind of allergy or phobia - fear not! These stories are about a whole lot more than that, too.

Image result for Timmy Reed, IRL
Timmy Reed, IRL (Short-ish: novellas + extended essays)Outpost19, 2016.   

In Timmy Reed’s novella, IRL, a lonely social media addict, unemployed and short on rent, logs off and shuts down in the middle of an ugly job search. Alone in mid-town Baltimore, where he’s mostly been online, he takes a little stay-vacation. Just little time off, in real life. See what he can get his hands into, see what he can dig up...               

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Timmy Reed, Miraculous Fauna, Underground Voices Press, 2016.

A hagiographic road trip novel detailing the lives of a fictional teenage mother and her stillborn yet miraculously animated daughter as they spend their lives searching for the meaning of sainthood.

 “Miraculous Fauna is nothing less than a miracle of a novel: beautifully strange and richly moving. Timmy Reed continues to create worlds that I long to get lost in, and this novel is no exception. Start reading, and soon you’ll want to get lost in Miraculous Fauna too.” – Laura van den Berg

“No one writes like Timmy Reed; he has a haunting, unique voice that sticks hard and fast in your head. Miraculous Fauna is freaky in the very best way. You’ll glide straight through to the tender and enchanting end.” – Jessica Anya Blau

“Very few authors can make me sincerely say awwww after one sentence, then giggle in the next. The magic in Miraculous Fauna does this within celebrity-culture-infatuated backdrop that takes the reader inside and outside the experience of reality.” – Tracy Dimond

"Timmy Reed’s sense of detail and description astounds me and makes me jealous, that he threads so much of that through this Miraculous Fauna is nothing short of, well, miraculous. Baby Rachel is a beautiful monster and the novel is full of great compassion. Miraculous Fauna is one of the most fantastic and one of the most fucked up novels I’ve read in years." - Michael Kimball

Timmy Reed, Star Backwards, Dostoyevsky Wannabe Press, 2016.

A satirical novel set in Los Angeles and north Baltimore circa the the early 2000's.

Timmy Reed, Tell God I Don’t Exist. Underrated Animals Press, 2013.

“Timmy Reed’s stories are so strange and so funny that it’s impossible to stop reading them. There is a great imagination at work in Tell God I Don’t Exist and I’m grateful to have been a witness to it.”
- Michael Kimball 

“If George Saunders and Russell Edson had a baby he’d probably grow up to write like Timmy Reed. These stories are beautifully haunting, surprisingly bizarre, and wonderfully imaginative. It is a joy to read such fresh and mind-bending prose.”- Jessica Anya Blau

“Timmy Reed’s Tell God I Don’t Exist announces a wildly gifted new voice. These stories are at once intimate and vast, full of beauty and strangeness and grit and heartbreak. A luminous debut.”
- Laura van den Berg

His writing includes bizarre otherworldy situations taking place on earth; apocalyptic atmospheres where subtle tenderness exists; our new technology juxtaposed against things more primitive; surreal images in mundane costumes. His terse sentences hauntingly make you laugh. - Matthew Sherling

You peel a banana, and instead it’s an apple, a kiwi, a boner. If it’s some old lady with a boner coming out of a banana peel, it’s hilarious; if it’s your poor nana, well, how dare you? It’s the soul-crushing delight of expectation, whose defiance can be both stimulating (see boner) or confusing (see kiwi). Or perhaps something like familiarity is at stake. It’s OK for Superman and Michael Shannon to destroy a square mile of Metropolis and all the humans therein, so long as Doug Stamper, Morpheus, and that guy from that CSI show all survive or die with purpose. The things we expect are there within their peel, and the people we know to pay attention to are not treated like extras.
These are thoughts that emerge as a result of Timmy Reed’s (novel, collection, book of prose poems?) Tell God I Don’t Exist. The title itself says a lot about the book, undoing its own purpose. If you tell God I don’t exist, He will probably know I do, my own imperative serving as proof of my existence. If you come to this book with expectations of what a short story should be, prepare to have them pleasantly, if fleetingly, defied. If you go in with no expectations, then congratulations, you may be one of the few people who don’t need art like this.
Some of the pieces, such as “Water into Dust” or the five-line “Reward,” seem like little more than stages upon which to push out a strange and lonely idea.
“The quest started with signage: Reward, Missing Tortoise. The torn page was attached to a lightpost with a strip of clear tape filled with bubbles that brought oceans to mind, a blanket of surf. I had to find this lost creature, a prehistoric remnant at large in the human city, just like me.” That’s the entirety of “Reward,” but there is something about Reed’s prose that sticks in the reader’s craw. In this case, it is the phrase “just like me.” At first it seems limited to “at large in the human city,” but then you start to wonder if the narrator is also a prehistoric remnant.
For such a short book, Tell God is full of such bizarre rumblings, all of which seem disconnected and disconsolate at first. But about halfway through the book, all of the odd stuff has bumped around enough to start to feel familiar. We have entered the writer’s world, as seen through the eyes of children, homeless people, and don’t-belongs. Reed’s world is populated by outcasts at odds with other, slightly more powerful outcasts. Ancient pasts are of import to a distant future.
Though one is tempted to compare Tell God to the parable-like Ficciones of Jorge Luis Borges, they are full of such mundane contemporary details that Lydia Davis and her wry, meditative, and utterly inventive stories are more apt. In the midst of his speculative world, Reed is capable of a gut punch as well. “Occasionally I will be writing about you on my porch in the sun and I won’t know what else there is to say, so I will look up at the sky. And I will see a bird. Actually, I will see the belly of a bird, flying over-head. In a second the bird will be gone and I will have to start thinking about you again.”
The book is full of such meditative descriptions that are only possible after one has slowed down, taken deep breaths, and become aware of each and every passing moment, making the prose itself feel more immediate, as if each sentence is being thought just now, as you read it. It’s fun to read these bits, sometimes full of astonishing facts that make one’s face fall blank for a minute or so. “In the early days of Modern English, British moles were known as ‘mouldwrap[’] ‘mould’ meaning ‘soil’ and ‘warp’ meaning ‘throw.’ Male moles are called ‘boars’ and female moles are called ‘sows.’ A group of moles is called a ‘labor.’” And . . . flesh hangs from skull front.
Reed, who won third place in City Paper’s 2011 fiction contest, has an affinity for little critters, from the surprisingly poetic mole through the birds and the bees, all the way to the shockingly prosaic mermaid that the members of a boat tour of a bay full of bioluminescence find (Reed calls his press UnderratedAnimalsPress). If there is such a tour, I want to go. But this story sparkles not just with the dazzling setting or the uncanny mermaid, but with the moral dimensions of the strange problem-solving process hit upon by the passengers. “Maybe she has old age, a little boy squeaked,” revealing everything about the way the aging process appears to the young.
While the effects of Reed’s unsettling universe may not be sustainable for, say, 400 pages, it is satisfying for the breezy 80 pages he gives us. It is a quick trot through a few hallways of a world teetering along the border between the charming and darkly surreal. “You should be the kind of fellow that makes people feel the world is all right after all, even if they have to find out later that it is not,” Reed writes in “Starfish.” Which is something the pieces accomplish, on their own and taken together, presenting a naive worldview that is saddened by the state of things but too small to be harmed by the injustice.
“These are the dull humid days that cause fungal infections and people to fall off their roofs.”
Are these instructions, suggestions, or merely possibilities? - Damien Ober

‘Tell God I Don’t Exist’ seems like a good thing to tell God. Timmy Reed knows how to really get his message across to God. Reed enjoys using gentle surreal flourishes to arrive at a greater truth. Animals feature prominently in almost every story. Unlike pets where the relationship is exploitative and possession-based, Reed avoids outright ownership. He observes these creatures. Whether it is a mermaid or a microscopic creature that’s been shot up to space, Reed cares about the creatures. All he wants is to protect the world from the world. Yes it is a hopeless task but Reed has a surprisingly large amount of hope for the future.
                Stories in here get extremely short. A few are less than a page, flash fiction, a mere idea. Yet these are some beautiful pieces. By far one of the most touching is the beginning story ‘Earth was a Living Thing’. Here Reed places his optimism into a creature that’s not quite a creature. Concerns are projected onto the Earth. Features more typical of a person are displayed throughout these stories. Crying spider mommas, imagined tigers, even mermaids possess human characteristics. 
                Water is another major characteristic. Every story has at least a little bit of water, whether for rain or going down a colorful river. The water washes away a lot of worries. Spiders get the hose. Mermaids find a way to return back to their home. And fishing trips manage to bore Reed so much that he’s willing to leave his comfort zone for the radical unknown. In fact often Reed thinks of having more exciting events. He’s trying to break through to reach out to creatures by trying to rescue them in some way, whether they are moles or tigers. 
                This is a funny book. Some of the lines are so positively bizarre that it is hard to comprehend. Generally these moments are buried deep within the story. Rather than work as a ‘throw-away’ line they illustrate the general weirdness of the situation. Residing inside someone’s ear is just one example. Licking a road that’s nothing but drugs is another. Finally there’s the list of what should potentially be done with a fictitious vomiting creature. His experience with the turtle is particularly charming where he walks very slowly in order for the turtle to follow behind him.
                 If Aesop’s fables ever decided to get weird, really weird, they’d look a lot like ‘Tell God I Don’t Exist’. These are the sorts of things that cope with life’s smaller problems, from an extremely personal point of view. Lacking dialogue the attention is paid to the individual’s response to a situation. Other people are mentioned mostly in passing. Rarely is there another character this is an extremely individualistic collection of works. When another character is introduced they are typically sympathetic, almost taking pity on the poor pathetic protagonist. -

I first met Timmy Reed at an open mic and reading series called You’re Allowed, sponsored by Artichoke Haircut literary journal. He could always be counted on to liven up the atmosphere, and I actually heard him read a few selections from this book on occasion. Reed has become a fixture around Baltimore’s reading series because of his energy, but also because of his profound literary style. His first collection smacks of magical realism but with an urban focus as he recreates the streets of Baltimore. “The Earth Was a Living Thing” sets the tone to open the collection. Reed describes the denizens of the Earth caring for the sores that develop on the Earth’s surface and living symbiotically. At first glance, the story seems strangely distant from some of the grittier pieces set in a modern Baltimore, but coming back to it after reading the collection, it becomes clear that Reed is saying something about our connection, or lack thereof, with the planet. The Earth that these characters align themselves with doesn’t seem to even know they’re there. Reed describes the religion these denizens practice, which
…did not produce an explanation or provide answers, only questions and doubt… Doubts were our only comfort, all of us tiny and terrified of what we might already know. Doubts were our version of faith, a way of supposing a meaning for life or pretending we might not all die completely, even the earth that held us.
Here, Reed has gotten to the core of what it is to be human.
Reed has a way of finding truth in exaggerated reality. “Wet Sugar” is one of my favorite stories, and is one of the longest among these mostly-flash pieces. It describes a city, waiting for a flood, that clings to its worship of the dead: “They said someone was building a boat,” Reed tells us. “They said they were building it to save all the bones.” Children find solace in candy. Reed’s profound voice is revealed in lines like this description of the narrator’s mother who, “pretended life was not beautiful, but pretty,” as a defense against her own fears.
Although I enjoy Reed’s flash pieces--like “Water into Dust,” which deals with a troll PO officer, or “After the Storms,” which follows a family hiding quietly from a tornado while standing outside in their driveway--his longer stories are much more compelling and reminiscent of Amber Sparks or shorter works by Gabriel García Márquez. “Bioluminescence,” for example, a story about a sick mermaid discovered during a boat tour, smacks of García Márquez. Upon discovering this fish-woman, who is constantly throwing up on herself and is quite possibly dying, the tour group makes a list of possible actions, ranging from taking the mermaid to a hospital, putting her in an aquarium, taking her to the casinos, or feeding her rum punch. Here, he reflects humanness in this strange situation. Really, Reed’s characters are just looking for beauty, just like anybody else. The irony, of course, is that they often experience a beauty we would find enthralling if we were in their situations. This is part of the point he’s making, I think, that there’s beauty in our own lives that we miss for various reasons. But we should pay attention. There’s a beauty in all life, and there’s beauty in connection. As Reed tells us, “To wave at someone and have them wave back makes me feel alive. There’s nothing more fragile than being alive.” - C. L. Bledsoe

Full disclosure: I know Timmy Reed. We started University of Baltimore’s MFA program the same year, though he finished this year. “Tell God I Don’t Exist” is his thesis collection, which he wrote, designed, and laid out entirely himself before releasing it to the general public in May of 2013. In a lot of ways, the cover is the perfect representation of what’s inside: brief, colorful, imaginative stories together in a sort of abstract dream world; each story is separate and distinct but could take place in the same universe, which is just a little off-kilter.
The longest story is just over 10 pages; the shortest, a paragraph. Each features a narrator who seems to be struggling with his (or sometimes perhaps her – it’s not always made explicit) sense of displacement in his particular universe. Even in their disenchantment, these characters find something to marvel at or feel some sense of wonder toward – a wonder that is almost child-like in many of the pieces (and indeed, some of the narrators are children), though sometimes this wonder wanders into the realm of fear or discomfort.  Oftentimes, the catalyst is an animal: moles, bees, tigers, tortoises, squirrels, dogs, birds, and even the lesser-known tardigrade, or water bear (a micro-animal so called because of its interesting resemblance, despite its eight legs, to a grizzly bear) all make appearances in these stories. “Sometimes when I felt lonely or disconnected, I needed to think about animals,” says the narrator in the story Hunting Water Bears. “I felt like they knew something I didn’t and if I thought about them I could learn a piece of it.” Many of the collection’s other characters seem to feel this sentiment, at least on some level. And sometimes, the more fantastical appears: giants, or an ill mermaid, or a “tiny man like an elf” who gives the narrator in Ruins a brilliant piece of advice that the world, he decides, isn’t ready for.
The prose itself is refreshingly unique. The sentences layer themselves into often-unexpected situations, expressing themselves with a clarity that never makes you feel lost, despite the rabbit holes (or perhaps mole tunnels) that they often lead you through. The experiences in each feel tangible, despite the dream-like way in which they often unfold. I hesitate to say that any of the stories cross completely into absurdity, but they sometimes nudge against it.
More serious themes weave their way through the book as well: Reed’s narrators struggle with destruction, impermanence, loss, and transition. Sometimes these themes are presented in an obvious,  exaggerated way: in “Water into Dust,” the narrator has a P.O. named Mrs. HURTTT who “is eleven feet tall, a status I would classify as no less than Giant… She lives in a cave behind the county jail.” (Maybe I was wrong about the absurdity bit). In others, it’s much more subtle, the after-image you’re left with when the story is over and the animals have gone on their way.
Overall, it’s a great reminder that there’s more than us humans living on this planet, and that even we’re not permanent. The book is in no way didactic about this; in fact, the narrators’ various interactions and experiences might make you want to go out and cultivate your own mole community – just don’t do it in a friend’s back yard. - Rachel Wooley

1. The album Shrines by Purity Ring is easily in my top five albums from the past five years. When I hear the lush electronic wooziness of songs like “Fineshrine” I feel like I’m being hugged—enwrapped in a surreal, dreamy blanket of sound.
2. When I read Timmy Reed’s Tell God I Don’t Exist I get a similar sensation.
3. These stories are hazy fever dreams, ecstatic jokes, deviant fairy tales.
4. When describing this collection the word twee comes to mind.
5. Twee is so often taken as derogatory, but this collection is saccharine sweet in a good way.
6. There’s a lot of handholding in these stories.
7. There’s a lot of candy, too:
“We eat licorice shoelaces and wayward mosquitoes, but we mostly eat sweets. We scarf cannolis. We munch crullers. We visit the snowball stand in bare feet and sleep next to pitchers of lemonade. We grow fat on melancholy pastries. We sweat sugar in the sun. We speak, through a saccharine haze, of taking vitamins. We speak in the past tense of the future as if it were part of a childhood dream.”
8. I found this inside my copy of the book:

9. I really hope everyone’s copy comes with a print that tells them that Timmy Reed (in all likelihood) loves them, because it’s true.
10. Reading this collection feels as if Timmy Reed is speaking directly to his readers. That’s how this collection feels, like a friendly Post-it in your lunchbox or an anonymous affirmation in your Tumblr askbox.
11. Timmy Reed’s stories drip with a childlike wonder that is far too rare in literature today—especially in the alt lit scene. These stories are about people trying to find joy and purpose in a joyless, meaningless existence.
12. “I enjoy life but know I cannot live forever and this makes me sad but also jealous and angry of entities (like the planet) that will get to experience more life than me,” is how the story “I Will End and the Planet Will End But I Will End First and For That I Am Jealous of the Earth”  begins. Reed’s prose shows this need to live life and love it for what it is.
13. Reed uses parataxis to create almost infantile scenes like this one from “Wet Sugar”:
Ruth asked me to take her out for another walk. We sprinted from tree to tree for cover. Ruth seemed to know where she was headed. I didn’t care. I just wanted to be at home. I didn’t want our mother to be alone either. I didn’t want anyone to be alone or get hurt or feel bad. More than that, I didn’t want to think about those things anymore. I imagined crawling underground to sleep for a long time, hundreds of years, and yawning when somebody found me.
14. Remember, this is meant to be praise for the book.
15. The story “Starfish” isn’t a story as much as it is a musing. It is five paragraphs on how great it would be to know “someone who was born holding hands with a starfish.” “It would be a constant reminder that life is not as bad as it seems.”
16. The sincerity is refreshing.
17. I’m nervous to lump Timmy Reed in with the New Sincerity (Is this even a thing anymore?) given this site’s history with the subject, but his writing reminds me of Miranda July’s.
18. When I first read July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You I felt excited in a way that a short story collection hadn’t made me feel before. Me and You and Everyone We Know did the same thing for me with film. They felt so quirky, raw, unrestrained.
19. Since then I’ve read a lot more books, seen some more independent film, and gotten burned out on the whole twee as fuck thing, but then I read Tell God I Don’t Exist and like a post-ironic madeleine and it all came rushing back to me.
20. In a world of posturing and worrying about public perception, it’s liberating to let loose and give in to the ecstatic joy that characterizes Reed’s oeuvre.
21. And have you read his Twitter account?
22. https://twitter.com/BMORETIMMYREED/status/420647667589320704 and https://twitter.com/BMORETIMMYREED/status/430667824235679744 are just a few of many gems.
23. If anything, Reed’s Twitter furthers my point as to how unfiltered and sincere this guy really is.
24. But honestly who gives a damn if he’s really sincere or not?
25. Just read his book already. - Quincy Rhoads

The Murdered Ghost by Timmy Reed
Birds And Other Things We Placed In Our Hearts by Timmy Reed
Deep Empty Wells of Information by Timmy Reed
Memories of Early Target Practice by Timmy Reed
Have U Seen My Whale by Timmy Reed


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