Thursday, February 26, 2015

Einstein's Beach House

Every so often, a book seems to come out of nowhere to surprise me with the sheer fun of reading it.  Jacob Appel’s Einstein’s Beach House is one of those books.  And, as is usually the case when this kind of thing happens, a big part of the surprise is that Einstein’s Beach House is by an author whose work I was completely unaware of less than two months ago. 

Einstein’s Beach House is a collection of eight short stories, including the title story, that are about people dealing with bizarre situations, situations sometimes of their own making and sometimes created by people close to them.  But in either case, the narrators of Appel’s stories generally come away from their experiences with more self-awareness than they had going in  – an achievement that, unfortunately, does not always work to their advantage. 

The stories are about mind games, as in the way people justify missteps to themselves and in the way that others seek to manipulate them for their own purposes.  These are stories about men whose girlfriends “adopt” exotic animals and treat them as beloved children; stories about sex offenders and serial killers; and stories about more normal experiences like having a crush on the older girl who lives across the street, or being taken advantage of by a mooching, favor-seeking old boyfriend.  But as different as the plots of the stories are, they have one thing in common.  All of them are fun to read. 

Jacob M. Appel
If I were forced to choose a favorite story from the collection, it would have to be the one titled “Paracosmos,” about a young couple extremely worried about their daughter’s infatuation with her imaginary friend.  Neither the little girl’s mother, nor her father, could have possibly foreseen the peculiar consequences of convincing her to give up that imaginary friend, but the best thing about reading “Paracosmos” is that the reader will be every bit as surprised as they are.

I see that Wikipedia describes Jacob Appel as “…an American author, bioethicist, physician, lawyer and social critic.”  Who better qualified to write stories about “mind games” than a man with that background? 

I’ll say it again.  This one is fun.

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