Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Einstein's Beach House: StoriesEinstein's Beach House: Stories by Jacob M. Appel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I insert the bevel and draw back the plunger. I know that the syringe contains more than sodium chloride-that even as the toxic contents fill my father’s veins, he is sharing with me his final gift: the horror and thrill of saving lives.”

Reading this collection of stories reminded me that I don’t read enough short stories. I keep hearing that people are becoming more interested in short story collections because they fit so well with our abbreviated attention spans, busy schedules, and our tweet/text diminutive information needs.

Who has time to read a whole novel anyway?

Well, me for one.

Just because I make the time to read novels doesn’t mean that I should forgo the stepchild of publishing...the short story collection. After all, I’m not allowed to discriminate against short people why therefore should I be allowed to snub stubby stories.

I can’t tell you how many people, when they find out that I read, say, as if it is an original thought usually accompanied by a heavy sigh while violin music softly plays in the background: “I wish I had time to read.” I stifle a yawn and usually either ignore them or say:

“Everyone has time to read. You just choose to do other things.”

The impression that people have about reading is that it is something you do when you have ABSOLUTELY nothing else to do. I don’t know how many times, when I’m sitting at the auto dealership waiting on my car or on a plane or on a train or on a park bench reading, someone will start talking to me because obviously if I’ve resorted to reading I must be BORED OUT OF MY FRILLING MIND. So why not replace Fyodor Dostoevsky, Raymond Chandler, or Virginia Woolf with idle chit chat about the weather or their goiter issues or their granddaughter’s exploits on the soccer field.

The point I was leading up to is that now, instead of giving my typical snarky reply that just makes people even less interested in reading because who wants to be like the intellectual a$$hole who just made them feel like a dumba$$, I will pull out my phone and queue up Amazon and say order this damn book…YOU have time for this book.

The “I wish I had time to read” tax will now be the cost of this book. I will look at their wristwatch and their shoes and make a quick determination if they have to buy a brand new copy. If they are wearing a t-shirt that looks like it has been washed on stones in a river or shoes that are held together by twine or a sundial on their wrist, I might point out the fact that they can buy used ones for pennies.

There are eight stories in this collection, not even double digits, so again if TIME is an issue, you can have this book read easily within a week by just reading one story a day and two on Sunday ( this slender volume fits easily in the middle of a Bible or a hymnal). They are Cheeveresque with a little T. C. Boyle hot sauce added to the mix. I didn’t really pick up any Raymond Carver, but then it has been awhile since I’ve read Carver, so he might have been standing in the shadows between sentences, and I simply missed him. I do wonder if Jacob M. Appel has a time machine and set it to take him back to Iowa City, Iowa, in 1973 to have sex with Cheever, smoke weed with Boyle, and drink shots with Carver.

That M. in the middle of his name looks suspicious, like maybe it stands for Mathematical, Mechanical, or Machine.

The thing of it is books are time machines, so Appel didn’t have to build one. The pages of the books that Cheever, Boyle, and Carver all wrote will take all of us forwards and backwards in time without ever necessitating that we leave our armchairs. He didn’t need a DeLorean; he only needed a bus that could take him down to the nearest bookstore or public library.

These stories are about redemption, the first love that we are usually fortunate to escape, time shared turtles, illness withering the strength of a father, deaf-mute sex so as not to further disturb a disturbed hedgehog, of someone so happy at what IS instead of what could have been, a bit of scheming with Einstein, imaginary lovers, and a daughter caught in a whirlpool of her father’s madness.

All the stories are strong, but three of them are really something special. I was going to parcel these elite eight out over several days, but frankly I couldn’t leave them alone. I kept putting aside the novels that were bristling with bookmarks and post-it notes and indulged myself by reading another Appel story. I soon ran out of pages and was eyeing the empty white pages at the back of the book in much the same manner in which I peer into the empty bottle of a fine single malt scotch...satisfied, but looking for more. Highly Recommended!!

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