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February 21, 2008 - Image 46

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-02-21

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Arts & Entertainment

Bard Of Background Noise

Grand Rapids born
and raised, Max
Apple is back with
a story collection
that celebrates the
lives of ordinary

Sandee Brawarsky

Special to the Jewish News


ax Apple's people are the
folks you might see having
lunch at a local diner. There's
Sidney Goodman, the carwash king of Las
Vegas, and Jerome Feldman, the outgo-
ing president of the Ohio Association of
Independent Pharmacists, along with
others who sell scrap metal, industrial
tools and trinkets. Apple has somehow
eavesdropped over the leatherette booths
and followed them out and into their lives,
dreams and hearts.
One of America's best short-story writ-
ers, Apple, 66, recently published The Jew
of Home Depot and Other Stories (Johns
Hopkins Press; $19.95), his first collection
of stories in 20 years. He writes with the
same playful imagination and comic intel-

ligence as in his earlier sto-
he fights his evil inclina-
ries, layered with irony and
tion, watching a beautiful
an infallible sense of detail.
young woman and her
Now, his people are
boyfriend at the fraternity
older; several stories deal
house across the street.
with aging mothers with
The story — and the book
Alzheimer's, which Apple's
— ends with an unforget-
own mother suffers from,
table sentence.
and he includes "Talker," his
Apple, whose first two
first story — highly fiction-
highly praised story col-
alized — about a child who,
lections are The Oranging
like one of his own daugh-
of America and Free
ters, has a language dis-
Agents, says that short sto-
ability. Even as Apple takes
ries are his favorite genre.
Max Apple: "The real stuff
on some serious subjects,
"I'm naturally drawn
is what's going on in the
he shows life as it is, full of background — the back-
to them. I find that most
odd moments, while others ground noise, like in life."
novels are not good all
are rich in complexity and
the way through," he says,
noting, "A story can be good all the way
Apple's characters in this collection,
through, every sentence. I don't always get
which also include a rabbi, a man lust-
it, but that's what I'm looking for!'
ing to become a father and a tall Chinese
In the last two decades, Apple has
woman seeking a husband, linger with
published a novel and two memoirs
the reader. It's hard to look at one of those
— including the best-selling Roommates:
large wedges of strawberry shortcake in
My Grandfather's Story, later made into
a glass restaurant case without thinking
a film starring Peter Falk, and I Love
about his story "Strawberry Shortcake
Gootie: My Grandmother's Story — and
when a man tries to lead his elderly moth- written several screenplays. He taught
er out of Denny's.
at Rice University in Houston for almost
The title story features Jerome
30 years, including several years of corn-
Baumgarten, an 85-year-old man in
muting from San Francisco. Now he lives
Marshall, Texas, who doesn't want to die
outside of Philadelphia and teaches at the
surrounded by gentiles, so a Chabad fam-
University of Pennsylvania, where his wife
ily flies in from Brooklyn to be with this
Talya Fishman is a professor of Jewish
stranger. By day, the family's only son
intellectual and cultural history.
takes on a job at Home Depot, and at night
"All this takes up time says Apple, who

is admittedly not prolific. "I'm not driven.
I love writing. My imagination is always
working. I write when I have time and life
allows me the time!'
He adds, "Nor do I think the world suf-
fers if I don't produce more. I work very
hard at each story, at every sentence!'
Apple advises students that for stories
to work, they have to have a great interest
in what happens to people.
"Things happen to all of us. The writer's
job is to get you interested. There's com-
plexity in stories — you can juggle several
things, you can divert the reader with plot.
The real stuff is what's going on in the
background — the background noise, like
in life."
Apple's essay "The American Bakery"
was selected by the New York Times Book
Review as part of the best writing of the
paper's first 100 years. There, he writes
about his Yiddish-speaking grandfather
who worked in a Grand Rapids, Mich.,
bakery, toiling over white bread and
doughnuts by the millions, and about
his own childhood love of language,
developed at the public library accessible
through a tunnel next to the bakery. "Jacob
wrestled with angels and I with sentences.
There's a big difference, I know. Still, to me
they are angels, this crowd of syllables:' he
"The American Bakery" is included in
Free Agents, which also features "Stranger
at the Table in which Apple explains, in
his appealing literary style, what's it like


Nate Bloom

Bell. Tamara Jenkins, whose

Special to the Jewish News

father is Jewish, is nominated
for best original screenplay for
The Savages, which she also
The songwriting team of
Alan Menken and Stephen
Schwartz earned three of
the five Oscar nominations
for best song for three tunes
they wrote for the Disney
film Enchanted. Meanwhile,
Beaufort, an Israeli film about
the first Lebanon war, snared
an Oscar nomination for best
foreign film. It competes with
The Counterfeiters, an Austrian
film about a group of Jews
forced to produce phony
currency by the Nazis.
As I previously wrote,
Daniel Day-Lewis, the heavy
favorite to win the best actor Oscar
for his performance in There Will Be
Blood, has an English Jewish mother,

Oscar Time

The writers strike is over, and the
Oscars will be presented, as usual,
in all their glitzy red-carpet glory
8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, on ABC.
No doubt, Oscar show producer Gil
Cates (the uncle of actress Phoebe
Cates) is relieved that Oscars host
Jon Stewart won't have to write his
monologue all by himself.
Here's a list of the Jewish nomi-
nees, followed by a few factoids
about some of them.
The strongest "Jewish" category
is the one for best director: Joel
and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old
Men), Jason Reitman (Juno) and

Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and
the Butterfly) all are nominated. The

Coens also are nominated for best
adapted screenplay for No Country,
as is Ronald Harwood for Diving


February 21 • 2008

but he was raised an Anglican
and his primary self-identification
seems to be as a leftist, anti-
Israeli Irishman (the London-
born actor has settled in
Ireland and taken Irish citi-
Interestingly, an Irish Times
columnist recently declined
to claim Day-Lewis for Ireland,
noting that his Irish-born
Protestant father was a British
citizen of mostly English ances-
No Country, which earned
eight Oscar nominations, is
among the most successful of
the Coen brothers' films.
The Coens now have three
films in the pipeline: Burn
After Reading (a black
comedy), A Serious Man
(about a Jewish college professor)
and The Yiddish Policemen's Union
(an adaptation of Michael Chabon's

"what if" novel about Jews fleeing
the Holocaust being given a refuge
in Alaska). Incidentally, I am reliably
informed that the unusual spelling of
the brothers' last name is explained
by their paternal Italian-Jewish
ancestry (their mother is Jewish,
Julian Schnabel recently told the
London Jewish Chronicle that his
father, a Czech Jew, came to America
in the 1920s. Although he was very
poor, he managed to pay for the pas-
sage to America for all the rest of
his family. Schnabel, who was a bar
mitzvah, told the Chronicle he is not
very religious but that he is very
concerned with moral issues. His
next film is about the persecution
of a gay Cuban artist by the Castro
regime. By the way, the lead role
in Diving Bell is played by Mathieu
Amalric, a very good French actor
whose mother is Jewish.
Jason Reitman is the son of

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