Jacob M. Appel is many things: a physician, an attorney, a bioethicist and, if he’s telling the truth in the selection of self-deprecating essays, a forlorn lover obsessed with finding out why the flurry of different individuals in his life do the things they do.
The searching isn’t limited to others, however, as by the end of each essay — they do everything from examine the juvenile hijinks of a crank-calling 7-year-old to juxtapose the immigrant experiences of both of Appel’s grandfathers to critique the state of modern health care as too focused on prolonging life, no matter the consequences — Appel discovers some new truth about himself.
“When one includes the possibility of posthumous influence, no human being ever reaches
his or her half-life,” he concludes in “Divided Expectations,” published originally in the Chattahoochee Review in 2012 and appearing in “Phoning Home” as the last of the book’s 13 essays. “We are all approaching our half-life — me as I write this essay, you as you read it. Mercifully it remains forever beyond our reach.”
While at times, Appel may come off as the “pseudo-intellectual” one ex-girlfriend says he is, his observations seem fresh and biting at the same time. His is an urban, frequently Jewish world, where the longing for personal connection is challenged by an anonymous sea of millions of nameless souls. That the tinge of hope remains is a refreshing discovery.