Skip to main content

Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
Home
Contents
Biographies
Submissions
Archives
Editors
Contact Us
Publications
Policies

BOOK REVIEW

 

 

The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up

 by Jacob M. Appel. Cargo Publishing.

2012. 299 pages.

 

 

 

RULES AND RULE BREAKERS TESTED IN SURPRISING DEBUT NOVEL

 

by Amy Lou Jenkins

 

Kurt Vonnegut offers writers basic rules. One is to “give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.” It is not easy to root for Arnold Brinkmann, the man who wouldn’t stand up, in Jacob M. Appel’s debut novel.  And no other character is presented in sufficiently intimate or positive terms to become our hero.  This satire depicts the trials of Brinkmann, a botanist, who won’t stand for a post 9-11 sing-along of God Bless America at a NY Yankee’s / Red Sox game. Our protagonist isn’t sitting for an articulated cause. His values are not rooted in intellectualism, morality, or experience; they are rooted in entitlement. He shouldn’t have to stand.  Arnold cares only for his plants, his gardens, and New York City. As Brinkmann fails to deliver a sufficient explanation for his choice, the reader is left to supply it, exploring ideas of personal liberty. Appel, a bioethicist, uses the circus of responses and reaction to provoke an examination of authenticity and choice in US culture.


One is swept along by the Kafkaesque plot-line where conflicting forces of political correctness overpower everything in a  surreal, dark milieu that evoke disorientation and helplessness.


Everyone is infuriated with Brinkmann, and the consequences are so sensational that the reader turns the pages for the comedy and the what-the-hell- else-could-happen curiosity. A local criminal, the “bare ass bandit,” spreads his terror without killing, making victims strip as he leaves them bound in a public space. Forsythias (early-spring blooming shrubs) and morning glories (mid to late summer blooming vines) blossom at the same time. Our protagonist makes the FBI most-wanted list.  An ultra-conservative minister capitalizes on the hoopla. Despite the consequences, Brinkmann clings to his valid right to express his liberty as an individual with hyperbolic ardor. Meanwhile, farcical community and media reactions destroy his personal and economic life and warp him into a sociopath. The protagonist's final metamorphosis offers a satisfying revelation.

 

Kurt Vonnegut noted that great writers tend to break his rules. Social rules, writing rules, and even laws must be tested for validity.  All types of freedom require periodic exploration and retesting of the continuum of conformity to chaos.  While The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up doesn’t build expectations and then satisfy by constructing a world of characters to care about, it is an absurd, funny, bewildering, nightmarish, and surprisingly sweet homage to that continuum.

 

In addition to being a bioethicist with a JD from Harvard and an MD from Columbia, Jacob Appel holds an MFA from New York University. His short stories have appeared in more than 200 literary magazines including Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah and Bellevue Literary Review. The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up was chosen as the winner of the 2012 Dundee International Book Prize, the UK’s largest prize for unpublished authors.