Review by Jason Arias
It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of short story collections. Denis Johnson, Joy Williams, Junot Diaz, Margret Malone, Scott McClanahan, Elizabeth Ellen, and Mathew Robinson are just a few examples of master-practitioners in the short form. I’m always looking for voices I haven’t read.
Jacob M. Appel’s new collection The Liars’ Asylum, published by Black Lawrence Press, is a masterpiece. From page one I fell easily into engaging storytelling and pitch-perfect pacing.
The collection contains eight extremely well-crafted stories. Each story is told through first-person narrative. Half have a female protagonist. Appel’s writing is refreshingly witty, absurd, emotional, and human while tackling extraordinary situations. I laughed out loud as much as I solemnly paused for brief reflection. Each story stayed with me long after reading it; I’m still turning them over again and again in my mind. Every character in this book feels palpably real. It’s almost scary how smoothly Appel pulls you into each tale, his use of language captivating and immediate.
I don’t want to say too much about the individual stories because I feel like it’s best to go in cold. But I’ll leave you with one parting idea.
There’s a line in the opening story “Bait and Switch” that reads:
“Carelessness is unacceptable,” said Silvio. “Deception has its uses.”
Silvio, the artificial foliage designer of the story, is telling us something important about his creator. Appel understands the usefulness of a carefully told lie. The way the right literary lie isn’t a lie at all, but a vehicle to explore truths. This is part of the secret to why Appel’s stories don’t feel like stories, but some personal epiphanies. I will revisit these stories many more times.