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Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets

Publication Date: March 2015


Excerpt From the Title Story

Zigfrīds Imants Lenc did not have a name on his home planet, because names were superfluous, but in Lummings, Alabama, where he operated the Latvian restaurant opposite the abortion clinic, his regulars called him Red Ziggy. The “Red” did not refer to the young man’s politics. Customers at Café Riga found the eatery’s proprietor zealously neutral in political matters, as impervious to provocation as the mimes at the Twelve Oaks Mall. Newcomers often speculated that his colorful nickname arose from the young man’s perpetually blush-slapped cheeks: a plausible, yet inaccurate guess. Rather, Ziggy had purchased the eatery from an old-timer known as Red Wally, who’d once made headlines for refusing Rosa Parks a soft drink. Ziggy replaced his predecessor’s ham hocks and black-eyed peas with pickled mushrooms and black balzam; the food critic at the Press Sentinel plucked the “Red” off Wally and pinned it onto Zigfrīds. But the review itself had been generous. Café Riga could claim to be the only Latvian restaurant in metropolitan Birmingham-the only Latvian restaurant in the entire state, in fact-which explained Red Ziggy’s placement. If the proprietor knew little about Baltic cuisine, his clientele knew even less, so mistakes were unlikely to attract attention. This low profile suited his mission: to observe the outlying planet’s inhabitants. Unfortunately, Dr. Schnabel opened his clinic six weeks after Red Ziggy baked his first pīrāgi, drawing competing demonstrators and the national media to Lummings; four months later, Erin Gwench of Saint Agatha’s College in Creve Coeur, Rhode Island, came to torment his soul…


“Appel presents a cast of characters worthy of his quirky title. Among them Red Ziggy, a restaurateur from a distant planet who opens Birmingham, Alabama’s only Latvian eatery, and Happy Gallows, a widower with granddaughter who advertises in the newspaper for ‘housekeeping and discourse.’ The topics are weighty-abortion, climate change, cancer-but the touch light enough to make you wonder whether you’re reading miracles and conundrums of this world or some other. An intriguing read.”

-George Harrar, author of Reunion at Red Paint Bay

About the Author

Jacob M. Appel

Jacob M. Appel is a physician, attorney and bioethicist based in New York City.   He is the author of more than two hundred published short stories and is a past winner of the Boston Review Short Fiction Competition, the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Award for the Short Story, the Dana Award, the Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction, the North American Review’s Kurt Vonnegut Prize, the Missouri Review’s Editor’s Prize, the Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize, the Briar Cliff Review’s Short Fiction Prize, the H. E. Francis Prize, the New Millennium Writings Fiction Award in four different years, an Elizabeth George Fellowship and a Sherwood Anderson Foundation Writers Grant.   His stories have been short-listed for the O. Henry Award, Best American Short Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best American Mystery Stories, and the Pushcart Prize anthology on numerous occasions.   His first novel, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, won the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012.  Jacob holds graduate degrees from Brown University, Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, Harvard Law School, New York University’s MFA program in fiction and Albany Medical College’s Alden March Institute of Bioethics.  He taught for many years at Brown University and currently teaches at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

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