Reviewed by Molly Martin
Phoning Home: Essays
by Jacob M Appel
University of South Carolina Press
Hardcover: 136 pages, ISBN-10: 161117371X, $18.60
Jacob M. Appel’s Phoning Home: Essays is a collection of stimulating pieces about multidimensional concerns running the gamut from witty to stirring. Appel’s initial composition, “Phoning Home”, centers upon episodes during the writer’s seventh summer when his family was beleaguered with the attentions of a crank call artist. The touching chronicle, “Two Cats, Fat and Thin’, describing how the loss of two small, rubber cats, Fat and Thin given to the author by a much-loved aunt, grandaunt, affected not only his childhood, but served to shape a cynicism lingering well into adulthood. At times probing, unassuming, and even penetrating, Appel divulges some of the most reserved characteristics of his life. With issues centered on childhood anguish, along with stories of his maternal grandfather, and a transitory happenstance with a man who was not his grandfather, Appel tells us of the predicament experienced by much of his family in prewar and war time Europe when many of the family perished. Other pieces explore the abrupt, unpredicted expiration of a grandfather, the tortuous nature of his grandaunt’s green Jell-O, and the impact of Alzheimer’s in 1932, and why he decided to be tested for the condition.
Subject matter for these often humorous, always provocative compositions show-case the writer’s New York City childhood, his often whimsical family, his Jewish culture, life in general and more. There is something in Phoning Home: Essays for every reader. The tales portray the writer’s inimitable voice, a merging of nostalgia and insights, mitigated through his education including degrees in ethics, law and medicine. Appel is a man who questions, learns and seeks more answers. His compassion rooted in his profession, physician, is tempered by his barrister ethicist’s persistent searching for answers, reasons and solutions.