APPLE, MAX (1941– ), U.S. writer. Apple was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, received a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1970, and taught creative writing at Rice University for 29 years. His fiction began appearing in the middle 1970s and was of that zanily comic character that at the time characterized the work of Tom Robbins (Another Roadside Attraction, 1971), William Kotzwinkle (The Fan Man, 1974), and Gerald Rosen (The Carmen Miranda Memorial Flagpole, 1977). Packed with references to popular American culture, such as Howard Johnson Motels and Major League Baseball, Apple's first stories (collected in The Oranging of America, 1976) played a wildly semiotic game with the icons of current life. Whereas Tom Robbins had alternately charmed and shocked readers with the notion of Jesus' mummified body turning up in a hippie-like sideshow redolent of the 1960s, Max Apple offered such delights as Howard Johnson, Colonel Sanders, and other franchised figures rubbing elbows with actual poets (Robert Frost) and politicians (Fidel Castro).
Yet his first novel, Zip (1978), suggests how this writer's career would develop, for among the countercultural zaniness of its context (a young radical financing his education as a boxer's manager) and the manipulation of political images (in which Castro and J. Edgar Hoover settle their differences almost literally in the ring) are references to a family of Jewish immigrants making their way in a new world that seems as strange to them as Apple's comic contortions of reality. By the end of the 1990s, readers would know this family as Apple's own.
The stories in Apple's second collection, Free Agents (1984), clarify this perspective, that of a young man of the 1960s and 1970s trying to sort out the turbulence of American culture as he has to explain it to his grandparents, who in helping to raise him cannot help but suggest what life was like in the old country. "The American Bakery" is a fiction, but draws on material that would eventually take shape as memoir. Following a novelistic expansion of his Walt Disney mythology in The Propheteers (1987), Apple fully embraced the stories of his grandfather and then his grandmother in two heartfelt yet still comic memoirs, Roommates (1994) and I Love Gootie (1998). Among everything else, Apple says, his grandmother "left me her recipe for stories. You start with a good person and you see what happens next. You listen and you watch. By the end it all adds up to something."
M. Chenetier, Beyond Suspicion: New American Fiction Since 1960 (1996); J. Klinkowitz, Structuring the Void: The Struggle for Subject in Contemporary American Fiction (1992).
[Jerome Klinkowitz (2nd ed.)]
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