short story collection review

Amazing Things Are Happening Here by Jacob Appel

amazin
By Lynette G. Esposito
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Bryn Chancellor, author of:,  When Are You Coming Home? says of Amazing Things Are Happening Here: Jacob Appel writes with an assuredness and verve that is mesmerizing.  The Stories in Amazing Things are Happening Here kept me riveted with their vivid places, surprising turns, and unflinching examination of all the complex, flawed ways we live.—and reckon with—our lives.
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The eight short stories in Appel’s Amazing Things Are Happening Here are amazingly fun to read. Chancellor is right.   The 152 page collection, published by Black Lawrence Press, presents vivid locations, surprising twists that explore the human condition, and  stories with clear and unflinching examination of complex truths of everyday people.
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In the lead story, Canvassing, Appel presents a love story gone wrong as he reveals the passion political campaign workers have for the man they are supporting. The story focuses on the political bias in a love triangle situation that twists into a murder mystery.
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The story opens with I was once— briefly— a suspect in a murder investigation.  Bam! The reader wants to know more about this narrator who appears to be direct and honest with an outlandish story to tell. Yet, how do we get to the end of the story and wonder if the narrator is the actual killer of the beautiful Vanessa?
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Appel controls the storyline in all of his presentations.  In Embers, the third story in this collection, infatuation with a lovely young girl by an inexperienced teenager is the plot. The surprising turn is that this lovely creature has leukemia which changes her physical appearance so drastically that the young man cannot see her beauty.  Appel twists the story again to reveal how this has changed the young man to understand he will give up his dream to be a professional archer and that he will become a doctor like his father and give comfort where there is need.  The over concern the girl has for her firefighter father is a bit much for me but the subtlety of the characters becoming who they are make a wonderful read.  The title Embers is a well chosen symbol of a story that is coming to an end but isn’t quite gone yet as fire still sparks. This works well with the girl’s father coming through smoke and flame with the teenager who started a fire on his back. This is a fitting ending to a story of self realization. The ending does not close the door but suggests on-going situations.
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In the title story, Amazing Things are Happening Here, the sixth story in the collection, Appel begins: We were short one lunatic.  How do you save your job from a Code White because a mental patient has escaped?  You cover it up.  The story twists and turns on hiding the fact a lunatic has made his way back into society like a shadow when the light is turned off.  Much like a slap stick comedy, the psychiatrist, Dr. Brilliant, can’t see what is right in front of him.  The final paperwork discharges the lost lunatic and all is well. Jobs and reputations are saved with the exception that a mentally ill person is now free, on the streets and unaccounted for.  In order to protect our jobs and our lives, most of us have this flaw of self preservation.
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Appel uses standard fiction techniques in all of his stories.  His remarkable writing skill reveals his keen observations of people and their many idiosyncrasies. He has a light touch with symbols that makes the reader want to take a second look.  The book is a great read who likes complications and well-plotted logical resolutions.
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The book is available from Black Lawrence Press. BLP » Amazing Things Are Happening Here
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.
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Dog Years

(Click on title for full screen view)

dog-years

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Review by g emil reutter

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Melissa Yancy writes in layers. Yancy weaves the professional with the personal creating strong characters who rise to the challenges of life no matter the illness or personal traits. These are stories of strength and although they deal with illness there is no pity, but there are no superheroes either. These complex characters come to life with dynamic yet flawed lives. Yancy paints these stories with a strong brush of realism. In Dog Years she brings us into the lives of a young boy struggling with muscular dystrophy and his interactions with family and parents, (geneticists), who are researching a cure for the illness. The boy lives his life in dog years to extend his life beyond what will be a young death in human years. His parents struggle to find a cure that they know if they find will not save their son. Consider This Case concerns a fetal surgeon who is competent and at the top of his game yet inattentive to his personal life, somewhat insecure in that life. His somewhat disconnected father flies west from Virginia to die in his son’s house. Yancy does a remarkable job in using the short story format to define this complex relationship.The stories in this collection are all set within the miracles of modern medicine melded with the everyday lives of her characters.  She brings us into the human condition, flaws and success, yet she writes in a manner that brings us into an understanding. Time is a central focus of these stories of how no matter what we do, time decides who will remain and who will go, time created by man in fact defines lives lived and lives that continue. Yancy does not lean on the cliché of disappointment for she is a crafter of short stories that are written in passion yet offer the reader a practical approach to the problems of her characters who will be remembered long after the story is read.

 

You can find the book here:

 

g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter

 

 

Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana

Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana

By Jacob M. Appel

Black Lawrence Press – 2016

Review by g emil reutter

Jacob Appel is an observer of life and family. This collection of short stories captures the internal dynamics of family or what we believe family is. He brings to us the intimacy of sibling rivalry, parental impact, of betrayal with a set of unique characters set in bizarre circumstances and the everyday.

In the story, The Butcher’s Music, Appel sets the tone for this compelling collection of stories. We are introduced to two sisters, one a butcher the other a professional musician who plays a Tecchler cello. In the end Appel leaves us to decide who the butcher is and who is not. In Boundaries he brings us to a remote Customs Station on the Vermont and Canadian border on Christmas. The two agents are snowed in preparing a holiday dinner for the evening and ready to watch It’s A Wonderful Life for entertainment.  In this story Appel captures the intimacy between the two agents who are yet to be romantically involved and how their evening is interrupted by a young woman who approaches their station to enter the United States when they discover her skin is covered in a sheaf of pustules. The tension in the story rises as they have to take her in the station and are exposed to her illness. Appel captures the media obsession and irresponsibility with a story that may not be what it is and the reports on cable news.

Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana is at times dark, at times humorous. Appel’s development of characters in these short stories is simply outstanding and compelling. As one turns the page from one story to the next an unexpected adventure awaits the reader.

You can find the book here: http://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781625579539/coulrophobia–fata-morgana.aspx

g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He can be found at:https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/