Saturday, September 17, 2016

Book Review: "Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana: Stories" by Jacob M. Appel

Often when I read a book by an immensely talented yet reasonably unknown author, especially when it's not their first book, I wonder about the randomness of fame. Why is it that some lesser-talented authors continue to see their books catapult to success, time after time, while others whose work is far superior don't get the level of recognition they deserve? I know it has something to do with the publisher they're with, and the publicity they receive, and at times the genre they're writing in might not generate the type of excitement that more bestseller-ready genres do, but it frustrates me sometimes.

I find myself asking this question a lot about authors, and I certainly asked it again when reading Jacob M. Appel's newest story collection, Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana. Here's a writer with so much talent, so much creativity, so much heart, that I just can't figure out why more people aren't saying, "Did you read Jacob Appel's latest book?" And this isn't the first book I've read of his—I think I've said the same thing when I read two of his previous story collections last year, Einstein's Beach House and Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets, which both received honorable mention on my list of the best books I read in 2015.

How can you not love an author who starts a story with this line? "My father fancied himself a shrewd landlord—he refused to rent to lawyers, the children of lawyers, even a college girl 'who had law school written all over her'—but he bit off too much when he sublet to the mime." C'mon, short story fans, let's make this guy a star!

There are many things I love about Appel's stories. He's a great writer, and his stories all share a similar quirkiness, although one that doesn't detract from their overall power. But they also possess a great deal of emotion, which in some stories is utterly apparent from the start, but in others it surprises you until you've completed the story and you've realized how much you've just been moved in a short number of pages.

Among my favorite stories in this collection: "Pollen," in which a teenage girl schemes to trick her cousin and ends up being the one who gets hurt more; "Hearth and Home," which tells of a lonely diplomat's wife pondering an affair while they're living in Norway; "Saluting the Magpie," about a man struggling with his overprotective wife's fears about their infant daughter; "The Butcher's Music," in which a butcher has to deal with the unexpected return of her estranged, more successful sister, while also navigating striking workers and the romantic intentions of a rival; "Boundaries," which tells of a pair of border control guards facing a potential crisis; and "Coulrophobia," the story with the terrific opening line, about a family turned upside down when a mime rents the other half of their duplex.

Appel has such finesse with his stories, and every time I read one of his collections, I wish most of the stories were longer so I can know more about these characters and what happened to them when the stories are done. If you like short stories and you've never read any of Appel's work, I'd encourage you to do so. His stories are sometimes funny, sometimes moving, sometimes thought provoking, and always excellent.

The author provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

No comments:

Post a Comment