'Millard Salter's Last Day' is winning novel

Updated 11/7/2017 10:22 AM

"Millard Salter's Last Day" (Gallery Books), by Jacob M. Appel

"Guns aren't lawful; Nooses give; Gas smells awful; You might as well live."

And with that, we're off to the races in Jacob M. Appel's "Millard Salter's Last Day."

Millard Salter is a 75-year-old New York City-based psychiatrist who's courting suicide. We find Salter in an existential funk - a Camus-esque cul de sac in which life seems simply not enough - or perhaps more accurately, too much.

Salter's dilemma isn't whether to be or not to be. On that, he's resolved, unequivocal. The question for him is how to get from here to there. And so, in ornate, frequently droll prose, Salter ushers readers through his "last day" and to his finale.

The author is clever - coy, even - in how he treats the reader. He has Salter tease us. Thus, our protagonist can be exceedingly comical, careening from innermost stream of consciousness to conversations with workaday hospital colleagues to quirky, lovable family and friends.

But the more we get to know Millard Salter, the more we want him to live.

While eating at an outdoor cafe with his colorful son Lysander, he experiences a mysterious, powerful explosion. He emerges rattled but unscathed.

Then, too, there's a lynx, a mascot of sorts and leitmotif that interplays throughout Millard's fateful day. (Author Appel, true to form, can't resist making mention of the "missing lynx.") Ultimately, Salter's attacked by the animal. Still, he escapes. Unscathed.

"Millard Salter's Last Day" wins readers in a number of ways. The author has a gift for schtick - above all, Jewish New York City schtick. And in spite of Salter's claim to being in a profound funk, when all is said and done, the man is full of life.

Millard calls up comparisons to the late John Updike's visited and revisited character, Rabbit. Embodying contemporary ennui, Rabbit considers himself fulfilled when he manages to merely "muddle through."

For our part, the reader wishes Millard - and all Millards - something more.

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