Buzzed Books #31 by Shawn Whittington
Jacob M. Appel’s Scouting for the Reaper
Jacob M. Appel’s recent collection of stories, Scouting for the Reaper, has all eight narratives threaded by one theme: the revelation of secrets in daily life to loved ones. More peculiarly, the revelations do not necessarily solve the conflicts within the tales but herald the thickening of plots yet to come. In other words, the stories mirror real life.
The first three stories, including the story the collection receives its name from, feature young teens in pursuit of romance. At first, these 1st person narratives seem to suggest a typical impulsive urge to pursue a forbidden love interest. But ingeniously, these goals mask the true conflicts, which take place more with the adults in the stories rather than the teenage protagonists. The 1st person point of view enhances the disorganized thought process in the teens’ minds as Appel artfully incorporates the mental distortion of their insatiable drives. Even more so, Appel’s stories become steadily unconventional in their plots and accomplish a rather extraordinary endeavor in writing, completing character arcs without “finishing” the story.
The other five stories place adults as the protagonists, which feature 3rd person points-of-view. Another thing to notice in this collection is Appel’s ability to weave the conflicts under the fabric of these accounts in a subtle manner that hint at the larger theme. An example of this technique is the story about a mother who suffers from seizures while nurturing a blind rabbit to the point of treating it like a human child. The narration does not point out that she misses being a mother to her grown and now successful children.
Appel is wonderful at partially revealing a realistic sense of a character’s emotional redemption. One story, written in 1st person, features a seasoned trucker transporting live zoo animals to Orlando, particularly penguins. Due to the trucker’s coarse, somewhat humorous, lingo, Appel demonstrates the procedure of subtle clues to the divorce the protagonist suffered and conceals deep down. When a teenage girl stows away in his truck, he faces the dilemma of being accused of kidnapping the difficult teen or risk not delivering his load on schedule. During this, the trucker retains a rustic charm despite these treacherous circumstances. He has a paternal quality he keeps from even himself. His character arc goes from wanting to move on from his previous marriage to wishing to see his son more often. His redemption is subtle and relative.
Scouting for the Reaper is an excellent read; Appel’s craft is remarkable. His work engages with the mundane in ways that both respect and heighten one’s sense of reality, through prosaic language and bold sentence structures. These eight stories are an immensely memorable read.
Shawn Whittington (Episode 156) is a writer living in Orlando, Florida.