Johns Hopkins University Pres
In Max Apple’s first book in 20 years, a middle-aged pharmacist passes up an easy one-night stand for a shot at love with an unknown stranger; a large Chasidic family moves from Brooklyn to Marshall, Texas, to care for an elderly, secular Jew who wants to learn more about his people; and the ungainly and awkward daughter of Chinese immigrants pines for the towering NBA import Yao Ming.
Apple, who has two other collections of short fiction, two novels and two works of non-fiction to his credit, has the uncanny ability to naturally and subtly inhabit a wide array of voices and personas. The author is as adept at writing about a 15-year-old shot-put prodigy as he is a Vegas carwash mogul. And happily, Apple never seems the ventriloquist. His imagination is vibrant, even bizarre, but always somehow plausible and entertaining. In contrast to his occasionally oddball characters, the content of his narratives is relatively quiet and often finds his protagonists struggling with internal, ethical dilemmas.
But unlike Richard Bausch or Raymond Carver, from story to story, Apple’s characters couldn’t be more different from one another. It may be Apple’s rich, vibrant cast of characters that makes this collection difficult to put down, but it is the strength of each individual narrative that makes this book great.
Each work in the collection is a window into a new personality and a new predicament. High points in the collection include the subtle and lovely ‘Proton Decay’, a story that explores the nature of the self-doubt we feel when we fall in love, and the title story, ‘The Jew of Home Depot’. In that piece, which closes the collection, one member of the aforementioned Chasidic family from Brooklyn finds himself in Texas and, against his better moral inclinations, longing for the blonde girlfriend of the frat boy next door.
In each of those stories, as in the others, Apple’s incisive prose is not unlike Updike’s or Cheever’s. People, rooms, situations and personal histories are described in straightforward, direct terms that resist sentimentality and foster empathy.
This beautiful, strange collection was a long time coming. Happily, The Jew of Home Depot was well worth the wait.