Apple, Max (Short Story Criticism)
Max Apple 1941–-
(Full name Max Isaac Apple) American short story writer, memoirist, and novelist. See also Max Apple Literary Criticism.
Apple's first book of short stories, The Oranging of America (1976), established his literary reputation for comedy, intelligence, and witty inventiveness, an eclat that has persisted with the publication of subsequent short fiction. Often writing in parables, Apple uses historical figures such as Howard Johnson, Norman Mailer, and C. W. Post as cultural images, placing them in farcical situations that serve to satirize and criticize a variety of social norms. Apple has stated that he borrows real-life figures for use in his fiction for purely utilitarian and pragmatic purposes: “I have certain things that I can assume my readers know a lot about, and I can work from that. I try to write very quickly and economically so that anything that saves me from descriptions and unnecessary words is always helpful to me.” Apple gives serious themes—death, love, health, money—comic treatment as he examines the variety of human fixations. To Apple, allusions, ironies, and levels of meaning burden writing; he instead prefers symbols, acronyms, images, real names, datelines, and the kind of absurd headlines often found in tabloids to inform his writing.
Apple was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and graduated from the University of Michigan in 1963; he later received his Ph.D. in 1970. Apple was raised in a Jewish home where language was esteemed, humor irradicable, and a powerful sense of tone held as significant in learning the American idiom. Apple taught literature and humanities as an assistant professor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, from 1970 to 1971. The following year, he accepted a position at Rice University in Houston, Texas, serving as an assistant professor from 1972 to 1976, an associate professor from 1976 to 1980, and a full professor since 1980. Apple was a recipient of the young humanists fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1971. He also won the Jess Jones Award from the Texas Institute of Letters in 1976 for The Oranging of America and in 1985 for Free Agents (1984), and Apple also received the Hadassah Magazine-Ribalous Award for Best Jewish Fiction in 1985.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Apple's The Oranging of America was identified by a critic in the New York Times Book Review as original and witty, with the reviewer stating: “Writing deftly and economically, [Apple] translates the most battered of our cultural clichés into glistening artifacts.” The title story of the collection follows Apple's version of Howard Johnson as he travels across America looking for places to build his motels—fulfilling his dream of making travel comfortable. It was this story that established Apple's use of celebrity personalities as symbols, as well as his use of off-beat humor. A further story in The Oranging of America, “Vegetable Love,” is also about personal fetishes: A man is hagridden about a woman and a woman is obsessed about her diet. The dominant theme depicted through the stories in The Oranging of America is the human pursuance for meaning. In the short story collection Free Agents, Apple continues to use esprit and cultural icons to further probe human nature. The title story is narrated by a stomach as it recounts its search for independence, along with other internal organs. In the story “Will and Walt” the pop culture figure of Walt Disney is teamed with a fictional brother, Will, as they search for a place to build Walt's dream world. The tale “Postmodernism,” a label often applied to Apple's own work, renders the symbolic personage of Joyce Carol Oates to explore the asperity of the writing act.
Apple has been compared favorably with John Barth, Philip Roth, and Woody Allen. Although his work has received critical acclaim and enjoys considerable popularity, some commentators think it may have limited relevancy due to Apple's heavy usage of cultural references. However, it has been posited by some scholars that Apple's audience is increasingly a younger generation, more sympathetic to his flashy postmodern technique and for whom written language is less meaningful than Apple's pictographs.
The Oranging of America and Other Stories 1976
Three Stories 1983
Free Agents 1984
Zip: A Novel of the Left and the Right (novel) 1978
The Propheteers (novel) 1987
Roommates: My Grandfather's Story (memoir) 1994
I Love Gootie: My Grandmother's Story (memoir) 1998
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SOURCE: Cook, Carole. “Fiction and Mock Fact.” The Nation 224 (15 January 1977): 59–60.
[In the following review of The Oranging of America, Cook denigrates Apple's prose.]
If fiction and poetry, those vestiges of the mythic mind, are endangered species, it is probably because they are not considered, in a verifiable sense, “real”: not substantial enough, not serious enough, inconsequential. They, and their kind of truth, are being pre-empted by the facts, which are, as any nonfiction reader will be happy to tell you at the drop of a hat, stranger and more interesting than fiction.
But perhaps because the worm must turn, the writers of fiction have decided to invade the previously undisputed territory of fact. They're mucking around with history. The most blatant trespasser is E. L. Doctorow. Reviewers of Ragtime were somewhat unsure as to what was invented and what borrowed, and one can foresee a similar, if less spectacular, response to Robert Coover's forthcoming fictionalization, The Public Burning of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, subtitled “A Historical Romance.” (One is reminded here that following the publication of The Book of Daniel, the Rosenberg story according to Doctorow, the sons of the Rosenbergs felt it necessary to set the facts straight with a book of their own.)
In the case of Ragtime, it's...
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SOURCE: Betsky, Celia. Review of The Oranging of America and Other Stories, by Max Apple. Saturday Review 4 (22 January 1977): 40.
[In the following review of The Oranging of America, Betsky discusses Apple's use of humor.]
Max Apple writes fiction the way Claes Oldenburg makes sculptures. His short stories in The Oranging of America take American obsessions and fads, myths and habits, and explode them into ingenious symbols with a life all their own. His comic intelligence either magnifies desires like the need to own a home (“My Real Estate”) into tangible absurdities or reduces pressing ideological issues to metaphorical jokes, as when Fidel Castro and an American “capitalist” agent compete in a baseball game for the loyalties of a Cuban ex-ballplayer turned revolutionary.
Life is not only a game, Apple's stories seem to say, but a game show (“Noon” for instance, is based on television's Let's Make a Deal). They mimic peculiarly American aspirations in matters as grave as economics, politics, and literature. “Inside Norman Mailer” pits the young author, Apple, as “campy lightweight” against Mailer in a prizefight that becomes a struggle for artistic identity and independence. Apple's parables are about pioneers, because in America that is what our deluded dreamers, mad visionaries, and inspired madmen turn out to be. The title story,...
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SOURCE: Vannatta, Dennis. “Satiric Gestures in Max Apple's The Oranging of America.” Studies in Contemporary Satire 7 (spring 1980): 1–7.
[In the following essay, Vannatta considers the satirical elements of The Oranging of America.]
Satires on the banality of the American dream are by this time such literary commonplaces that they threaten to become triter than the cliches which they attack. Vietnam, inflation, and Nathanael West's A Cool Million have done in America quite well, thank you; why kick a tired old fellow when he's down? Yet on they come, novels such as Rob Swiggart's Little America (1977), at a time when the American dream is little more than an historical relic. Why then the striking critical and popular success of a first collection of short stories by Max Apple—stories which take on yet again the punch-drunk myth of America?
Reviewers of Apple's The Oranging of America were nearly unanimous in praising, if not the originality of subject matter, Apple's refreshing tone. The tones of most of the satires on the American dream range from the indulgent to the exacerbating; Apple's, on the other hand, can best be described as affectionate. “Affection,” “freshness and charm,” “mellowness,” “peculiar optimism”: these occur again and again in reviews of this slender volume. But Apple offers more than merely a reluctance to...
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SOURCE: Wilde, Alan. “A Map of Suspensiveness: Irony in the Postmodern Age.” In Horizons of Assent: Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Ironic Imagination, pp. 161–65. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981.
[In the following excerpt, Wilde explores Apple's utilization of irony and symbolism in creating postmodern fiction.]
Max Apple at his best, as in the title story of The Oranging of America and the slightly later “Disneyad,” is all chamber music. Equally postmodern, Apple's prose is more intimate, its tone, at once affectionate and aware, more understand—full of a significative doubt directed at the contemporary world of goods and services and at the founding fathers of that world, chief among them the remarkable and comic Howard Johnson. In part God—“HJ raised his right arm and its shadow spread across the continent like a prophecy”; “he contemplated the map [with its dots signifying existing and projected ‘HJ houses’] and saw that it was good”1—he in no way resembles Elkin's autocratic bully-boy. The benign creator rather of twentieth-century pop America, Johnson represents the God of civilization or of “the civilizing instinct” (p. 8) in its most innocent and euphoric form. The innocence is insisted upon by the story's imagery, for if Howard Johnson is the patriarch of a commercial Manifest Destiny, he is also, with “his large pink...
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SOURCE: Glausser, Wayne. “Spots of Meaning: Literary Allusions in Max Apple's ‘Vegetable Love.’” Studies in Short Fiction 20, no. 4 (1983): 255–63.
[In the below essay, Glausser examines Apple's use of literary allusions in the short story “Vegetable Love.”]
Max Apple's fiction doesn't seem at all dense or recondite. Reviewers have described his stories in The Oranging of America as “lighthearted satire,” “unpretentious,” even “giggle-ridden.”1 Apple's imagination thrives on materials offered by popular culture—Howard Johnson's, the Houston Astrodome, Let's Make a Deal, Ban Roll-On, and similar institutions and details of American low art. His characters often speak in what seems almost a pure language of cliché, using the tropes of real estate jargon, California buzz words, Time magazine style, and so on. Most readers come away from his work with an impression of Apple as a junk sculptor, creating estimable pieces of satiric art from the basest elements of American culture. While it would be silly to contradict this impression of Apple's fiction, the description does leave out a significant aspect of his work: the stories in The Oranging of America contain an abundance of allusions to the high literature of Western civilization, and these allusions amount to more than just hit-and-run satirical effects. The network of included fictions...
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SOURCE: Apple, Max, Larry McCaffery, and Sinda Gregory. “An Interview with Max Apple.” In Alive and Writing, pp. 26–45. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987.
[In the following interview with McCaffery and Gregory, conducted March 17, 1983, Apple discusses his narrative style, thematic concerns, and creative processes.]
Born and raised in the center of America's Midwest, Max Apple is, at heart and in his fiction, an emigré. With an outsider's eye for the incongruous, for irreconcilable peculiarities, he manages to penetrate the mythological world that shimmers just beyond the golden arches, the orange roofs, the magic kingdoms that line our main streets and freeways. No writer is better at examining the middle ground between the ideal and the reality of the American Dream, because few others have such a real appreciation for the ambition and the magnitude of the Dream, or such a basic understanding of the impossibility of its fulfillment. In his two collections of stories, The Oranging of America (1976) and Free Agents (1984), and in his novel, The Propheteers (1987), he deals with the ambiguous qualities inherent in American enterprise, which Apple (like Stanley Elkin) rightly perceives as partly a con man's pitch and partly a visionary response to genuine human needs and desires. Apple peoples his stories (and his novel, Zip ) with real made-up men behind...
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SOURCE: LeClair, Tom. “Brief Review.” New Republic 191, no. 3640 (22 October 1984): 46, 48.
[In the following review of Free Agents, LeClair explores Apple's self-obsessed narrative manner.]
Much of Max Apple's new collection could have been published in Me Magazine. There's Max growing up in the 1950s with a Yiddish-speaking grandmother in Grand Rapids, deserting his family and region, holding onto kosher food (“The American Bakery,” “Blood Relatives,” “Stranger at the Table”). From the “Me and Mine” section we have three stories: Max exploring fatherhood with children Jessica and Sam at Girl Scout meetings, in a “Pizza Time” restaurant, and on a Dallas movie set. In the “My Arts” department are “The Four Apples,” a piece about stories for kids, and “An Offering,” a fictional prospectus advertising shares in “Max Apple, Inc.,” producer of “private fantasies.” The title story, about Max Apple's organs' declaring independence from him, would be perfect for Me's lead section: “My Body.”
Four fictions told by single or separated men of Apple's age and two narrated by women (all about personal success in love or business) extend the narcissistic atmosphere. Only two stories—“Walt and Will,” about the Disney brothers, and “Small Island Republics”—and two sketches, “Post-Modernism” and “The National...
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SOURCE: Apple, Max, and Allan Vorda. “An Interview with Max Apple.” Michigan Quarterly Review 27, no. 1 (winter 1988): 69–78.
[In the following interview with Vorda, conducted February 19, 1987, Apple discusses contemporary fiction and his own writing.]
Max Apple was born October 22, 1941, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he spent his childhood and youth. He attended the University of Michigan, and received his first significant attention as a writer by earning several Hopwood Awards, as well as his Ph.D., in 1970. Since 1972 he has taught at Rice University where he holds the title of Fox Professor of English Literature. He has published four books: The Oranging of America (1976), a collection of short stories; Zip (1978), a novel; Free Agents (1984), a collection of prose pieces; and The Propheteers (1987), a novel.
The following interview took place on February 19, 1987, in the English Department at Rice University.
[Vorda]: What are your feelings about contemporary fiction? Do you feel comfortable with labels like metafiction or experimental fiction, which are sometimes applied to your work?
[Apple]: The truth is, I don't like to categorize. I'm as likely to enjoy fiction that is old-fashioned as something avant-garde. My current colleague Lynne Sharon Schwartz' novel Disturbances in the Field is...
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SOURCE: Wilde, Alan. “Dayanu: Max Apple and the Ethics of Sufficiency.” In Middle Grounds: Studies in Contemporary American Fiction, pp. 131–58. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987.
[In the following essay, Wilde traces Apple's stylistic development.]
The conventional tags that generally fill out the titles of short-story collections—“five stories,” “eight stories,” sometimes the spare and humble “stories,” and, most often, as in the case of The Oranging of America, the serviceable, formulaic “and other stories”—all leave open the question of what, if any, unifying principle binds together a volume's title story and its remaining, otherwise unspecified contents. Picking up books with names like Dubliners, Winesburg, Ohio, Tropismes, City Life, or Fizzles, on the other hand, the reader is led to expect a more absolute and demonstrable coherence, as one is when approaching Max Apple's second and larger collection, Free Agents, which falls at least nominally into this category. But only nominally. In this case the title signifies not the essential focus of the book's various pieces but their status, which effectively thwarts or denies the very possibility of focus.
The stories, Apple has said, were themselves to stand and function as free agents, and the book's organization, an apparently haphazard...
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SOURCE: Klinkowitz, Jerome. “Ritual: Max Apple's History of Our Times.” In Structuring the Void: The Struggle for Subject in Contemporary American Fiction, pp. 73–90. Durham: Duke University Press, 1992.
[In the following essay, Klinkowitz analyzes Apple's depiction of American cultural history and usage of cultural icons, and compares Apple's writing to that of Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan.]
As Kurt Vonnegut takes the otherwise unknowable self and from its elements constructs a system for interpreting the world, so does Max Apple approach the history of our times, which would otherwise remain an ineluctable subject, and transform it into something writable and therefore understandable. In doing so he follows Vonnegut's example in several important ways.
Americans do require richly colored symbols, three dimensional and juicy, Vonnegut tells one of his own characters in Breakfast of Champions. Max Apple understands this need, and by taking advantage of the great technical innovations forged by Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, and the other writers who came to prominence in the 1960s, he has made the practice of such ritualization a major concern in his work. In the 1960s reality was attacked on two fronts: philosophically, by the Deconstructionists who forswore all attempts at identity in favor of systems of difference (in which only the system and not the thing itself...
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SOURCE: Bellamy, Joe David. “Max Apple.” In Literary Luxuries: American Writing at the End of the Millennium, pp. 179–182. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995.
[In the following essay, Bellamy surveys the stories in The Oranging of America.]
The spirit that made America what it is today is still operative, according to Max Apple in his remarkable debut, The Oranging of America. That peculiar combination of resourcefulness, fanaticism, greed, and dumb luck is all around us, just waiting to launch another multibillion-dollar franchise. This spirit is embodied for Apple during a fill-up at the world's largest gas station, in a real-estate woman's yen to transform the Astrodome into a climate-controlled subdivision for middle-income bungalows, or in an elderly scientist's obsession with the health-giving properties of yogurt that leads him to hypothesize a yogurt-based theory of history.
Most appealingly, it turns up in the fictionalized figure of Howard Johnson, the restaurant magnate of ice-cream-in-twenty-eight-flavors fame, who is spending his last years still traveling the byways of the nation with his longtime assistant, Millie (in a 1964 Cadillac), shrewdly plying his unique gift for sniffing out the perfect location for yet another orange-roofed eatery or rest stop. There is something almost biblical in Howard Johnson's quest: “HJ raised his right arm and its...
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Los Angeles Times Book Review (21 July 1985): 8.
Review of Free Agents.
Pochoda, Elizabeth. The Nation 239, no. 21 (22 December 1984): 685.
Review of Free Agents.
Shack, Neville. “Front Line of a Phoney War.” Times Literary Supplement (10 October 1986).
Review of The Oranging of America and Free Agents, considering Apple's fictions to be merely gags.
Virginia Quarterly Review 61, no. 1 (winter 1985): 24–5.
Review of Free Agents.
Wilde, Alan. “Max Apple and the American Nightmare.” Critique 30, no. 1 (fall 1988): 27–47.
Analysis of The Propheteers.
Additional coverage of Apple's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81–84; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 19, 54; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 9, 33; Dictionary of Literary Biograhy, Vol. 130; and Literature Resource Center.
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