By Ashley Bach
Einstein’s Beach House, the short story collection of Jacob M. Appel is populated by teachers, doctors, rabbis, people who used to be teachers, people who pretend to be doctors, people who pretend that their house once belonged to Einstein, a pair of teen girls breaking into a sexual predator’s house, a couple dealing with a depressed pet hedgehog, PEOPLE who seem real despite their unbelievable lives. Unbelievable in a good way. If you who take their coffee black with a hint of sugar, you will find this book to fit your tastes. Not to say that’s the only way you can enjoy the stories. Throughout the collection the illness recurs, having some effect on characters in some way. Mental illnesses and physical illnesses permeate, and by extension a fixation on mortality.
It’s easy to imagine that each story takes place in the same universe. It’s a universe of literary folks, and people who want more for themselves and loved ones. In the first story of the collection, “Hue and Color,” the main character’s father opines, “I fear I’ve taught you girls too much grammar and not enough forgiveness.” “The Rod of Asclepius,” one of the darker stories, a Manhattan doctor recounts accompanying her father on his nefarious hospital visits. Visits the latter deemed as being a way of changing the world and being for the narrator’s dead mother.
Stories like “The Rod of Asclepius,” the eponymous story, and “Limerence,” work as retrospectives. They are first person narrations that relay the distance the narrator has from the events recounted, and reflect on them, while giving tidbits of information of where they are now in life, as they tell the story.
Not only can Appel construct a fascinating concept, but he can carry it out, making sure that every aspect of the story is on par with the appeal of the plot, such as it is with “Paracosmos.” A beautiful title; science fiction like, and it’s about a worry wart mother receiving a visit from her daughter’s imaginary friend. It has it’s predictability, but the occurrences of anything predictable are minimal, and sometimes, as with “Paracosmos,” there is a point where the reader can see where things are going, but they can continue to read to see if this is actually going to be where the story leads. You wonder if this is for real, and you end up surprised.
Key features of the writing are the moments of profundity, so eloquent they jar you from the quirkiness or the darkness with this speck of fantasy. A prime example comes from “Einstein’s Beach House.”
My sister looked up at me and asked, “Is this what nuclear winter is like.”
Often times Appel portrays his males as dreamers and his women as voices of reason. In addition, the females are more often than not are emotionally burdened, but he shows the flaws of both sexes in a way that we as a society have been normal for the norms, not to say it appears sexist. He seems to pay as much attention to female psyches as he does to male, and this balance of gender diversity is something that can be appreciated. There aren’t any definable archetypes. No manic pixie dream girls. No Humbert Humberts. Pretty much every child in the collection is precocious, but Appel manages to make them a pleasant aspect to the stories they are featured in.
The effectiveness of this line directly comes from the place where it occurs, during a domestic dispute between the narrator of the story’s mother and father. It comes from a child, and it’s in a nice indented line before the next break in the page.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. See for yourself!