Review by Grady Harp
Once reading one of the Appel novels/books an addiction occurs. That Jacob M. Appel is such an extraordinarily fine writer, certainly among the top rung of serious authors in America at present, seems foremost in a resume of his achievements – this coming of course from an admitted devotee of his books such as THE BIOLOGY OF LUCK and SCOUTING FOR THE REAPER – until the extent of his life’s work to date is surveyed. Thus the following from a previous review written in response to the mentioned novels:
Jacob M. Appel is an American author, bioethicist (Bioethics, the study of typically controversial ethics brought about by advances in biology and medicine, is also moral discernment as it relates to medical policy, practice, and research. Bioethicists are concerned with the ethical questions that arise in the relationships among life sciences, biotechnology, medicine, politics, law, and philosophy), physician, lawyer and social critic. He couples his fame for his short stories and his plays with his writing in the fields of reproductive ethics, organ donation, neuroethics, and euthanasia. Appel is an advocate for the decriminalization of assisted suicide, raising the possibility that this might be made available to both the terminally ill and those with intractable, long-term mental illness. He has written in favor of abortion rights and fertility treatment for homosexuals, as well as against electronic medical records, which he sees as poorly secured against hacking. He has also argued in favor of the legalization of prostitution, polygamy, and incest between consenting adults, and bestiality when the animal is not forced or harmed. He has raised concerns regarding the possibility that employers will require their employees to use pharmaceuticals for cognitive enhancement and has urged that death row inmates be eligible to receive kidney transplants. He generated considerable controversy for endorsing the mandatory use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis as part of the in vitro fertilization process to prevent the implantation of embryos carrying severe genetic defects. Appel has also written in support of an ‘open border’ immigration policy. Among the causes that Appel has embraced is opposition to the forcible feeding of hunger strikers, both in domestic prisons and at Guantanamo Bay. He has taught medical ethics at New York University, Columbia University, Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Brown University’s Alpert Medical School.
In a PHONING HOME Appel offers yet another aspect to his plethora of information to share – stories (labeled essays) that among other things relate his experiences growing up in a New York Jewish family, The thirteen stories are wry, at times hilarious, insightful, respectful, embarrassed, philosophical, and examples of English as a creative language. From pranks of being an anonymous caller to his own parents, to the mysteries of promises of lime Jell-o from an Alzheimer aunt, experiences as a physician with strange patients, the pros and cons of sudden death, tales from the past about the genealogy of the author, favored toys – so many moments of memories and how time and becoming an adult alters them.
But it is not only the fascination with the individual stories that entertain and marvel: Appel’s gifts as a wordsmith deserve a few quotes. ‘When under stress, my mother has a voice that could tarnish copper.’ ‘That is the horror of the past: that it is so expansive, and remote, and each day it expands exponentially, tearing through the emotional threads that bind it to the present.’ ‘So Mozart lives not three and a half decades, but three and half centuries. Keats may have died at twenty-six, but a Keats poem remains a joy forever. And that is the miracle that separates us from the mourning glories and the mayflies and the uranium; an utterly irrational with that our contribution will leave the world a better place, even after we no longer remain to reap the benefits.’ Jacob M Appel is now secure in the highest echelon of American writers.
TITLE: PHONING HOME
AUTHOR: JACOB M APPEL
PUBLISHER: UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA PRESS