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Sep 09

Blot Lit Reviews: Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets by Jacob M. Appel

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Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets, Jacob M. Appel
Black Lawrence Press, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-62557-933-1
Reviewed by Kelsie Plesac

Jacob M. Appel’s collection of short stories, Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets, is a smart, completely unique collection that is eccentric in the very best of ways. The mood and tone of the stories ranges from romantic and sweet to dark and detached, and each story employs a broad cast of interesting and compelling characters.

Many of Appel’s stories contain a romantic relationship, but the way those relationships are portrayed differ greatly from story to story. In the title story, “Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets,” Red Ziggy (better known to Earthlings as Zigfrīds Imants Lenc) finds himself involved with Erin, a beautiful, young college student who protests abortions outside a nearby clinic. As Ziggy is alien to Earth, he is also alien to human love, yet manages to fall in love with Erin in the most basic, human way. After their first meeting, Ziggy cannot seem to get Erin off of his mind. Erin’s presence across the street is enough to prompt Ziggy to run his cafe every day. And his feelings for Erin prompt him to abandon his dedication to neutrality and logic as he confronts Erin’s nemesis, Dr. Schnabel, confirming Erin’s sentiment that “Love is not logical.”

Each of these instances are handled with delicacy and demonstrate how foreign a first love can be. It is told with sweetness, but without being trite, and refreshes a tale-as-old-as-time love story with the unique circumstances of each character.

While Appel introduces us to many romantic relationships, not all are as sweet as Ziggy and Erin’s. In “Invasive Species,” Meredith, the mother of a terminally ill daughter, finds herself attracted to an older man named Cohan, who seems eerily similar to the Grim Reaper. Meredith notes this in her first observation of the man who seems to almost invite Meredith to death.

Despite comparing Cohan to the Grim Reaper, Meredith finds Cohan attractive. This not only sets a precedent for the rest of their relationship but mirrors the human relationship with death. As devastating as death is, humans are interested, fascinated, and, to some extent, attracted to it. Appel brilliantly demonstrates this relationship with the darker story of Meredith and Cohan.

In addition to variety of romantic relationships, another joy in the collection of stories is the eclectic cast of characters. Appel colors the page with a rainbow assortment of characters like Happy Gallows, a wealthy old man obsessed with apples, and his granddaughter Oleana, who digs up bones from an old cemetery by her house, or Ollie, a man from “a nation no longer in existence” who wants to learn “everything” to try to impress a woman who he has driven in his cab. The characters are all beautifully odd and nuanced. They give life to these beautifully crafted stories.

Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets is an intriguing collection of stories that, once the reader starts, is quite difficult to put down. I found it compelling, at times suspenseful, and declare that it is truly worth reading—at least once, perhaps many times.

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