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.