I remember watching an artist painting. Having roughed out the structure, he could apply deft touches of colour with such skill that I immediately recognised what was intended, not just the physical representation but with atmosphere and the emotional connection that distinguishes great art. Jacob M. Appel’s new book The Biology of Luck reminded me of that artist, as his skill is to bring the otherwise mundane to into sharp focus with a few well-chosen words:
A makeup-caked woman in a tight leather skirt argues with the white clerk at the passport counter. She has a child in tow. It appears that the woman is not the child’s mother, an admission she is heatedly trying to retract, and Larry suppresses the urge to step forward as the child’s father. At her right, two portly women have wedged themselves between the cordon and the package retrieval window. They are wearing colorful hats, dressed for church although it is a Wednesday. A sign posted inside the window—one cannot be too careful—reads, “Pick up parcels between 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.” The heavier of the women, arms akimbo, rakes Larry with her eyes. Her fishlike mouth hangs open to reveal a gold-capped tooth. He fears she is reading his thoughts, his pity for the makeup-caked woman who will someday, soon enough, wait for packages in church-wear, but maybe she is just deciding whether he will attempt to usurp her place in line, for she purses her lips to emit a soft-pitched hum and smiles approvingly.
Although by profession a psychiatrist, Jacob has worked hard to become a registered New York City tour guide, work which provides rich material from the many opportunities for social observation. I really grew to like his ‘anti-hero’ and the impossibly wonderful subject of his affection – and am happy to accept the startling coincidences as part of his unique postmodern style.
This is a book that will appeal to writers, particularly novelists. Jacob describes it as an ‘anti-novel’ which breaks as many of the rules as he can. Why? Because it is something you will never have seen before. With the entire book covering the events of a single day, Jacob Appel has taken on the challenge of writing a book-within-a book. It can mean you have to sometime stop and re-read a few paragraphs but the rewards are there. Highly recommended.
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About the Author
Jacob M. Appel was born in the Bronx and grew up in Scarsdale, New York. He is a graduate of Brown University,Harvard Law School and Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 2000, he received an MFA in fiction from New York University. He is currently a psychiatrist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. His first novel, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, won the 2012 Dundee International Book Award and was published by Cargo. Jacob’s short story collection, Scouting for the Reaper, won the Hudson Prize and is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. His short fiction has appeared in more than two hundred leading literary journals. Find out more at his website www.jacobmappel.com