I was wary when I first received this book in a Goodreads giveaway. According to his bio, Jacob Appel is a physician, attorney, and bioethicist. How can one person be all these things, AND still be a half-way decent writer? I asked myself. I’m still not sure how it’s possible, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Scouting for the Reaper is collection of 8 short stories, most of which take place in or around the town of Creve Couer. Each story is intriguing in its own right, but reading them as a collection lends a sort of Winesburg, Ohio kind of vibe which added another level to my enjoyment. In particular, I think Appel has managed to capture the art of the short story; while each story could be expanded to be longer, they are also each complete as they are. This balance is critical to a successful short story, and among his many other talents, Appel is a balancing master.
It’s hard to pick my favorite story from the collection, but “Hazardous Cargoes” does feature a truck driver and forty-two Gentoo penguins. Then again, “Rods and Cones” centers around a blind rabbit named Archimedes. And then there’s the Kafkaesque “The Vermin Episode” (I won’t say more, or risk spoiling it). What I’m trying to say, is that I’m looking forward to reading more of Appel’s work in the future.