Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Apple typically incorporates famous people into his stories and often uses games as metaphors for American society. In this story he manages to do both by employing baseball and some of its most famous players. The story takes place on the day that Houston Astro star Nolan Ryan became the all-time major league strikeout king. This coincidence also implicitly reminds Jessica and her father that in order for someone to become a strikeout king, many other people must strike out. Life is like that, and we must roll with the punches. The narrator is also setting an important example for his daughter, reminding her that while watching games is fine, being a player is even better—even if more dangerous.

Jessica’s language is worth noting, as well. She uses baseball jargon in a way that is traditionally associated with boys. Meanwhile, her father is echoing the language of the Girl Scout leader. There is a kind of role reversal implied in the game that Apple plays here, and that serves his theme well. The narrator, after all, mentions several times that he thinks his daughter understands life better than he does. In the face of the real dangers out there, her fear is quite legitimate.

However, this is also Apple’s way of parodying cultural clichés, reminding the reader in a gentle way that the games that define social roles in the United States do not ultimately get us through serious crises, which are anything but games. No one is keeping score, he seems to imply, and it is difficult to figure out what the rules are. As with most of Apple’s fiction, the story has both a bittersweet tone that recognizes life’s inscrutable challenges, and a quietly optimistic sense that whatever answers there are can be found in the ordinary lives of ordinary people.