Max Apple Apple, Max (Contemporary Literary Criticism) - Essay

Apple, Max (Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Apple, Max 1941–

Apple is an American short story writer and novelist who writes in a satiric vein. His first novel, Zip: A Novel of the Left and the Right, is scheduled for publication in 1978.

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 prize-fight 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, "The Oranging of America," then, is about Howard Johnson and his mission to spread plastic romance and the "color of the sunset" across the continent. After you have read Apple's version of how "HJ's" faithful but dying secretary is given a cryogenic deep-freeze trailer to die in, those 28 flavors will never taste the same.

Apple's humor is entirely effective. From political morality to private hangups, he hits things right on target by making the familiar into a parody of itself, by letting spoofs show how serious our zany realities are. Much of his brilliance lies in the versatile range of voices he is able to assume and in a talent for punning that leaps into a wonderful realm of linguistic high jinks and buffoonery. Apple pokes fun at high culture and appreciates low, but his own art shades more to the transcendental than the pop. It transforms while it impersonates, changing not only what we see but the way we see it. (p. 40)

Celia Betsky, in Saturday Review (© 1977 by Saturday Review Magazine Corp.; reprinted with permission), January 22, 1977.

Fast food and the fast buck, TV game shows and the Astrodome: in these artifacts of American life most writers of fiction sense the odor of decay. But they strike Max Apple—an improbably named and extraordinarily entertaining short story writer—as signs of life, and he writes about them with mischievous wit and generosity….

The Oranging of America overflows throughout with vitality, charm, and good humor; it is an irresistible collection of stories. (p. 96)

Amanda Heller, in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1977 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), February, 1977.

The Oranging of America And Other Stories … is funny and revelatory and moving, particularly the knockout—but oh so sweet and tender—title story. Apple proves once again that literary delight may engage the current mind in a rewarding way even though it deliberately does not confront great issues of immediate consequence. This is healthy and always needed…. Apples uses very contemporary strategems in his stories, like real names and absurd-surrealist givens—Fidel Castro figures in one story, Norman Mailer in another, Gerald Ford in a third, and one story posits a gas station with 83 self-serve pumps and 41 urinals—and thereby risks falling off the edge of irony into the wry.

The risk is greater because he declines anger. The stories are positive and cheerful (in the face of insanity) and at root optimistic; they stimulate the aesthetic imagination and gracefully bypass the social concerns and fashionable guilts they obviously acknowledge and to a degree employ. The title story is, as they say, worth the price of the volume. It is, mythologized, about Howard Johnson's search for an America he would create and immortalize in 28 beneficient flavors, and about his own immortalization in life after death; it has nothing at all to do with horrid business practices or cookery corruptions or environmental pollution. It may have to do with God and wistfulness and mortal intentions—I am not sure.

I am sure that it is quite the most lovely piece of imaginative writing I have encountered in some years. You go from it happy. That happiness may be viewed as an insult to pressing moral issues that indeed do matter, but I find it reenergizing. Get hold of The Oranging of America, laugh and weep over Howard Johnson's dreams, buy an HJ cone (you can taste it in this story), and return to the barricades renewed in spirit and perhaps in determination—that's the feel I get from Apple's book, and I'm grateful for it. (p. 78)

Eliot Fremont Smith, in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; copyright © by The Village Voice, Inc., 1977), February 14, 1977.