Phoning Home is a collection of entertaining and thought-provoking essays featuring the author’s quirky family, his Jewish heritage, and his New York City upbringing. Jacob M. Appel’s recollections and insights, informed and filtered by his advanced degrees in medicine, law, and ethics, not only inspire nostalgic feelings but also offer insight into contemporary medical and ethical issues.
At times sardonic and at others self-deprecating, Appel lays bare the most private aspects of his emotional life. “We’d just visited my grandaunt in Miami Beach, the last time we would ever see her. I had my two travel companions, Fat and Thin, securely buckled into the backseat of my mother’s foul-tempered Dodge Dart,” writes Appel of his family vacation with his two favorite rubber cat toys. Shortly thereafter Fat and Thin were lost forever—beginning, when Appel was just six years old, what he calls his “private apocalypse.”
Both erudite and full-hearted, Appel recounts storylines ranging from a bout of unrequited love gone awry to the poignant romance of his grandparents. We learn of the crank phone calls he made to his own family, the conspicuous absence of Jell-O at his grandaunt’s house, and family secrets long believed buried. The stories range from the humorous to the poignant and capture the author’s distinctive voice—a blend of a physician’s compassion and an ethicist’s constant questioning.