Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jacob M. Appel Conjures the Impossible

In the second in a series of posts on 2015 books entered for The Story Prize, Jacob M. Appel, author of Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets (Black Lawrence Pressindulges himself in a fantasy.

So I have this fantasy. Each time I settle down in my cozy little garret with its panoramic view of the airshaft and the brick wall beyond, surrounded by my sparse furniture and copious rejection slips (from journals, from agents, from women I knew in college), steeled against distraction and chronic disc pain and the understanding that most geniuses go misunderstood in their own lifetimes, and also the lifetimes of others, I lay my fingers on the keyboard with the hope, nay the dream, verily the expectation, that my few fragmentary ideas will cohere on the page into a story, or possibly a collection of stories, or an epic of Homeric proportions, a work so vast in its scope as to capture the full range of human experience and so deep in its sensitivity to the nuances of human character that hardened editors at The New Yorker and The Paris Review will melt into sobs, topping off their first martinis of the morning with emotion so that gin and vermouth and tears merge into one salty flood, and yet so accessible that factory workers, and subsistence farmers in the Congo, and children as young as six, or possibly six months, and enlightened cats of various breed, and even ferns, fronds unfurling in tribute, will quote my words like currency, like food, like the very blood of life as they struggle against the elements and the outrages of fortune.
Sophia Loren: "Take a number."

In this fantasy, my stories pass through the hands of an A-list agent to an A+ list editor to the CEO of a major American publishing house, which is now part of a major German publishing conglomerate, a colossal enterprise endowed with its own military budget, famed for breaking down the barrier between books and household appliances, and this omnipotent CEO finds himself so enthralled with my stories that he grants me my own imprint, my own in-house advertising agency, staffed with troubadours and acrobats and Nobel laureates, not just in literature, but in physiology and chemistry and physics, and arranges for Annie Leibovitz to snap my cover photo and for Philip Roth to write my jacket copy and for Pope Francis to bless my launch party. The wisdom of my enterprising German publisher is not misplaced, as soon my collection fights its way up the all-time best seller list, above Dr. Seuss, beyond Shakespeare, atop The Bible. His firm discontinues its line of self-cleaning caskets, of automobiles with prescription windows, devoting all of its resources, which dwarf the GDP of several lesser continents, to promote my magical, lyrical, incomparable words to the few deprived souls, tucked away in Antarctic research stations and Eritrean prisons, who have not yet experienced the pleasure, nay the ecstasy, of my prose.

I receive warm congratulations from friends, and acquaintances, and former acquaintances, and fan letters from my congressman and Karen Russell and the Dalai Lama and Sophia Loren—this last letter soaked in perfume, sealed with lipstick—and then Ms. Loren shows up at my doorstep, star-struck, or climbs up the airshaft into my cozy garret, which is now a luxury penthouse, ever since I bought out all of the neighbors and knocked through the connecting walls, only Ms. Loren is now twenty-five, and possibly in lingerie. I tell her to “take a number,” because I am busy at the moment accepting the keys to the City of London, and the Palme d'Or, and the Croix de Guerre, and the embrace of my third grade teacher, Mrs. S., who acknowledges she was wrong to correct my spelling, and my high school sweetheart, who wishes to retract our breakup, and my late grandfather, risen from the dead to express his pride in having such a gifted descendant.  

Needless to say, I find myself swimming, nay drowning, in literary prizes, including The Story Prize, not just this year’s, but next year’s, and the year after’s, acknowledging that I have written a masterwork that is not merely great, or unequalled, but truly perfect. Perfect. And then I press my fingers to the keys, and the first words appear, reality settling in like a cold washcloth on a winter morning, and the harsh business of writing begins in earnest….