I haven’t read any of voracious writer Jacob M. Appel’s other short story collections, but if his fifth is anything to go by, he’s long since mastered the underappreciated craft of short-form storytelling. The fact that he isn’t better known just goes to show how arbitrary fame’s fickle finger is.
There’s no flimsy thread running through the ten stories in Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana, which were previously published in various periodicals then collected between these covers when they reached that nice, round number. The two titular stories have nothing in common but go a long way to showcase how diverse this collection is: fear of clowns and a mirage, if you were wondering.
“Few scenes draw spectators more quickly than a grown man antagonizing a mime.”
The stories feature an even mix of male and female voices from various stages of life, who’ve generally endured necessary hardships to shape them into interesting characters for our entertainment. From benevolent teen pranksters to over-cautious parents, from honeymooners struggling through nicotine withdrawal to widowers losing their marbles, there’s plenty to get you hooked as briefly follow these complex personalities.
Abrupt endings can be an issue in a few of the stories, although which ones will be down to the reader. Whether you’re caught up in the festive epidemic shaking a formerly quiet border office, the non-affair of a vice-consul’s wife and a chimney sweep, or just transfixed by Icelandic scenery, you’ll find yourself arguing with the author at least once or twice over his decision to end a story before you’re ready.
If you’re a fan of the short story generally, Jacob M. Appel deserves your attention. Some tales are more meaningful than others, some teeter on the edge of absurdity without fully committing, and some may be a shade or two darker than you might prefer – but you’re only ever a few pages away from an unconventional love story to lift your spirits.