Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book Review: "The Liars' Asylum: Stories" by Jacob M. Appel

"Aunt Jill had been courting Mitch W. at the Citarella fish counter for eight relentless months, stockpiling our freezer with pompano filets and hand-sliced sable, when the giraffe painter swept her off her swollen feet."

There are few, if any, authors out there who can start a short story like that, and yet not have it dissolve into a total farce. Yet with his latest short story collection, The Liars' Asylum, Jacob Appel once again proves his talent for memorable phrases and stories that both make you smile and tug at your heart.

This is the fourth collection of Appel's stories I've read, after Einstein's Beach House, Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana, and Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets, and I find myself again in awe of his storytelling ability, his knack for combining just the right amount of quirk with the right dash of emotional poignancy. It's not just his imagination that dazzles, but it's also the way he creates memorable characters that are far more complex than they initially appear at the start of the story.

The Liars' Asylum features eight stories, each one with its own special qualities. My favorites included "Bait and Switch," the story which opens with the line mentioned above, about a teenage girl tasked by her man-hungry aunt to find her a beau; "Picklocks in Oblivion," in which a man who transports invalids is being convinced by his bewitching young girlfriend to commit an unthinkable act; "When Love Was an Angel's Kidney," about a young girl who falls in love with a daring kidney patient attending her parents' dialysis camp; "Good Enough for Guppies," in which a man must deal with his wife's outrage over her elderly mother's sudden urge to remarry; and the title story, about an emergency room psychiatrist faced with a phenomenon which could greatly affect his life.

The fact is, though, while I mentioned five stories, the remaining three were equally strong, but it didn't make sense to describe every story! At times Appel's dialogue made me laugh, at times it made me think, and it times it even choked me up a little. While some of these stories may have crazy situations at their core, they are not unbelievable or farcical stories—you feel as if you could see each of these happening in front of you.

If you're a fan of short stories, pick up this collection or any of Appel's story collections and see why I consistently find him one of the best story writers out there these days. I know there are many of you who don't consider yourself short story fans, but don't discount the literary form completely until you've tried some of his stories. I don't know why he's not more well-known, because his talent certainly merits that level of recognition.

The author and Black Lawrence Press provided me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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