Claudia Putnam's Reviews > Einstein's Beach House

Einstein's Beach House by Jacob M. Appel
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it was amazing
bookshelves: literary-fiction, short-stories

I almost never give a story collection 5 stars, because I rarely can say I loved every one of them.

I've been interested in Appel's short fiction ever since, several years ago, we were both honorable mentions in a contest held by The Journal, the literary magazine of Ohio State University. I think there were something like 8 or 10 finalists, one winner, and four HMs. The difference between Appel and me was that he had TWO stories that were named HM. (I only submitted one, but still.)

I thought, Who IS this guy?

For whatever reason, though, I've never come across one of his pieces, even though he's apparently published well over a hundred. Einstein's Beach House was sent to me by the author after I reviewed a novel of his (The Biology of Luck) here as a first reads giveaway. I don't think getting the book for free has influenced my review at all.

Each of these stories is outstanding. And each is incredibly consistent in quality and care. I hardly ever once thought, Oh, too bad no one cut this paragraph. Or, I wish he'd expanded on this or that.

There's an emotional connection to each of the characters, even the weird ones. Some of the moments are heartbreaking. Some are funny, and some are just true. Many of the stories take real risks, such as a neighborhood father's attempt to show tolerance and forgiveness to a sex offender, or a young woman's emotional enmeshment with a pet hedgehog.

In the title story, it did feel as though the ending had been overworked, possibly to achieve that arc we're all supposed to have in our stories. But I would have been fine just with this family winding up homeless. I didn't see how the mother's intransigence contributed to that. Perhaps "La Tristesse Des Herissons" and "Sharing the Hostage" were a little too similar in terms of the obsessions of the characters in each, so maybe one of them could have been reworked or another of Appel's prodigious list of stories substituted. But whatever. They stood alone as excellent pieces. (I'm not going to summarize the stories themselves, because I think that's a pointless exercise. We don't read stories because of what they're about, exactly. We read them because we trust the author to deliver insight worth having.)

A note to the publisher just in case he/she happens to see this: I'm kind of meh on the book design. Loved the cover, except for the font, and I thought aspects of the manuscript-y look of the pages were easy on the eyes (line spacing and font) and kind of interestingly funky, but the indents and headers messed with my sense of balance. Just a nit, but well, it weighed on me.

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Reading Progress

January 9, 2015 – Started Reading
January 9, 2015 – Shelved
January 23, 2015 – Finished Reading
August 18, 2016 – Shelved as: literary-fiction
August 18, 2016 – Shelved as: short-stories

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