Commentary by Joseph Levens

Let's not call this a book review. Let's consider it special recognition for a greater achievement. The Summerset Review would like to recognize the author Jacob M. Appel for bringing us many short stories over recent years that are consistently entertaining and always engaging.

Though his body of work is far greater than what we list below, we thought to, unbiasedly and without request, promote a set of five collections published by Black Lawrence Press, an independent publisher in the State of New York. The five books are listed below.

Scouting for the Reaper  —
January 2014. ISBN 978-1-937854-95-9

Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets  —
March 2015. ISBN 978-1-62557-933-1

Coulrophobia and Fata Morgana  —
September 2016. ISBN 978-1-62557-953-9

The Liars' Asylum  —
October 2017. ISBN 978-1-62557-975-1

Amazing Things Are Happening Here  —
April 2019. ISBN 978-1-62557-705-4


There is a total of forty-three stories in these five collections, released from 2014 to 2019. Almost every one had been published in reputable literary magazines previously. These books would be a great little set to take with you on a journey, keeping you turning page after page as your train or plane or boat takes you from here to there. The number of stories that disappointed us in this set are... well... think of a number less than one.

In general, these pieces are consistent in narrative style and most are the perfect length to settle into if your days are busy and you find you only have time for a single dose. One of the things we enjoy most about Appel's writing is that the narration can touch on complicated material at times, but always in a way that doesn't make the reader work unnecessarily hard at understanding. Facts from many aspects of the world are present throughout these stories, and many blend an element of science or medicine with character-driven prose. Not only will you find yourself identifying with the characters, but you will learn new things about our world in the process.

A common theme we see in many stories is related to unrequited love, often a male narrator the "victim." A common tool used in others is surrealism: truth storms settle onto a town, causing residents to tell no lies; random people come back from the dead. Many stories have an underlying serious subject yet are successfully sustained with a protagonist's view or narration that is often light, sometimes even quite funny.

As well as to Mr. Appel, appreciation is extended to Black Lawrence Press for giving us the chance to read his work in collected form, now five times running.

Read one of Jacob Appel's stories published here some years ago.