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Free Agents

By (author) Max Apple
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Faber & Faber, London, United Kingdom
Published: 31st Mar 1986
Dimensions: w 140mm h 220mm
ISBN-10: 0571138527
ISBN-13: 9780571138524
Barcode No: 9780571138524

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Kirkus US
Twenty brief pieces by the author of The Oranging of America (1976) and Zip (1978) - whose large, special talent seems badly splintered here. About half of the stories are more or less autobiographical. Apple offers a fine, funny glimpse of growing-up-Jewish in 1950s Grand Rapids (also printed in Stephen Berg's anthology, In Praise of What Is, 1983); there's a strong, if unsubtle, sketch of Max's elderly Uncle Jake - a benevolent slumlord (Muskegon, Michigan, circa 1967) whose genuine fellowship with his black tenants was hard for insensitive young Max to understand. Out of more current personal history comes an uneven handful of scenes from solo father-hood: in the baldly sentimental yet wryly touching "Bridging," recent widower Max becomes a Girl Scout troop's assistant-leader while grieving daughter Jessica stays home, obsessed with baseball ("I pass out paste and thread to nine-year-olds who are sticking and sewing their lives together in ways Jessica and I can't"); "Pizza Time" is a predictable meditation on the seduction of kids by junk food and Pac-Man; "Child's Play," a strained whimsy, presents Max's seven-year-old son as a precocious film-biz type - giving crass advice to a director modeled (rather unpleasantly) on Robert Altman. And "The Offering" is a bitter, amusing trifle - with Apple's writing career reduced to corporate format. ("The Company constantly risks lapsing into journalism or screen writing or silence.") Elsewhere, an unnamed narrator recounts the tribulations of Jewishness - from a girlfriend who wants to reverse (or somehow exorcise) his circumcision to the unfashionable mysteries of keeping kosher. ("I hope that you are relieved to know that I am not starving. I can eat the rain forest and the tundra or be satisfied by a fruit salad.") But Apple's flights of fancy, so assured and elegantly rounded in previous stories, seem flimsy or murky this time. "Walt and Will" presents Walt Disney as the impractical, dreamy pawn of his mercenary brother - a far less interesting character than the real Walt. One-joke notions - the organs of the body as ballplayer-like "free agents," an interview with the folksy keeper of the National Debt, a post-modernism parody - stretch thin. And the remainder is a mix of mild social-comedy (Mexican maids, working wives) and psychological parables - with a closed-off husband who beats his Jewish mother. . . and "Eskimo Love" as a symbol of unrealistic romantic yearnings. Promising ideas, flashes of wonderful writing, unsatisfying resolutions: half-engaging, often-disappointing work from a writer who seems to be in the process of re-gathering his considerable forces. (Kirkus Reviews)