Short Stories - Einstein's Beach House

Einstein's Beach House - Jacob Appel

** I received this book at no charge from the author in exchange for an honest review **

This is a book of short stories that deal with relationships, loss, imagination and life in general. Some are a little dark; some are filled with pathos while others are humorous.

HUE AND CRY – Lizzie’s father is very ill and sometimes the only way one can deal with that is to focus on something else, which is exactly what Lizzie does as she begins spying on her next-door neighbor – the sex offender – the one everyone on the street wants gone.

“That year Lizzie’s kid sister kept a list of things that were funny when they happened to other people: tarring and feathering, Peeping Toms, mad cow disease.” It’s a great first line. And when I finished the story it turns out also to be the summary of what the story is about. In my humble opinion, that’s some pretty good writing.

LA TRISTESSE DES DERISSONS – He wants a German shepherd and she wants a baby so they compromise and adopt a hedgehog. Orion the hedgehog was not what one would describe as cuddly, what with the quills and all and definitely not the most conventional of pets especially when he becomes depressed and needs to see an animal psychologist. How far will his owners go to keep him – and themselves – happy?

STRINGS – In an attempt to do one, hopefully last, good deed for her long ago ex-boyfriend newly married Rabbi Cynthia Felder agrees to let him use the sanctuary of her synagogue to hold a concert to break all records of the number of cellos performing simultaneously. This story held two of my favourite passages in the book, one being the following:

Rabbi Cynthia is having second thoughts …

“It’s only for a few hours, Cynth,” he emphasized. “We rehearse here until noon, then we go out to the park and perform the concert. You’ll hardly even notice we’re here.”
“God will notice you’re here.”
Jacques shrugged. “Maybe God sleeps late,” he said. “Besides, it’s a Sunday, if He is awake, won’t he be hanging out with the Catholics?”

LIMERENCE – Jesse and his high school friends spend a lot of time pondering many subjects but as Jesse says, “the bulk of our attention focused on girls”, Lena Limpetti in particular.

I admit that I had to look up the definition of the word “limerence”. Coined in 1979 by psychologist Dorothy Tennov, it is defined as “a state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person typically including compulsive thoughts and fantasies and a desire to form or maintain a relationship and have one’s feelings reciprocated”.

Had I read Mr. Appel’s story first I would not have needed to look up the meaning of the word.

EINSTEIN’S BEACH HOUSE – What happens when, because of a innocent yet fortuitous error someone else made, that you try to take advantage of (to help your family) goes terribly, horribly, tragically wrong? This is the story that answers the question.

THE ROD OF ASCLEPIUS – Although she knows her father is not a doctor she accompanies him to many hospitals over the years, beginning with the one where her mother died. Each time the visit begins with the question, “Are you ready to change the world, Princess?” At his side she learns an important lesson, “the horror and thrill of saving lives”.

SHARING THE HOSTAGE – Sometimes couples break up and nasty custody battles ensue. It’s not always children that are the subject of these battles, in this case, it’s a tortoise named Fred.

PARACOSMOS – Children have imaginary friends, there’s nothing unusual about that and as the children grow their imaginary friends become less important and eventually disappear. What happens when your daughter’s imaginary friend’s father shows up at your door asking why the girls don’t play together anymore?

I don’t normally read short stories. I tell myself I don’t enjoy them as much as a novel. Yet, whenever I do pick up (or as in this case receive) a collection there is always at least one story that makes it worthwhile. I knew I wanted to read this book when I read the description of “Paracosmos”. I would call it my second favorite in this collection because much to my surprise another became my very favorite. I find it so difficult to rate a book of short stories; unless there is the thread of a character or location tying the stories together they need to each be taken on their own merit. These are well written and (to me) are almost allegories or fables, each taught some lesson in its own unique way. Add that to their enjoyment factor and I’d say this book is definitely worth 5 stars.