The Jew of Home Depot

While reading the stories in Max Apple's recent collection, The Jew of Home Depot
I couldn't help drawing similarities to the writing of Joseph Epstein. Both authors are from
the Midwest (Epstein from Illinois and Apple from Michigan) and both
come from traditional Jewish homes. Each depicts individuals struggling
with what life hands them. That I compare these two Jewish-American writers
and do not include Nathan Englander (What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank) is that Apple and Epstein are more
universal in their themes; being Jewish is not necessary to appreciate
the subtle nuances in their stories.

Take, for example, "A Loss for Words" by Joseph Epstein (Fabulous Small Jews) and "Strawberry Shortcake"by Max Apple (The Jew of Home Depot). 
Both stories deal with the sad realities of aging and the struggle of
children to connect with their once vibrant parents.  They also deal
with the heart-breaking realities of decisions made by those children to keep their loved ones safe and comfortable.

"Adventures in Dementia," Apple depicts a son helping his mother
remember his long-dead father.  He does so in a way reminiscent of their
mother-son school projects.  He calls this endeavor "Project Dad." As
the narrator recalls:

But even for this son, Harold Goodman was no
easy retrieval.  He had come to seem not so much a father as a business
partner who had made a miscalculation by cashing out too early.  Sidney
hung onto sales far beyond any statue of limitations.  yearly, Sidney
granted his father the lifetime achievement award, the Yizkor memorial
prayer as one rabbi after another droned out the same words, 'Our loved
ones live on in our memory.'
( The Jew of Home Depot, p. 125)

the end, Sidney consults a former Las Vegas hypnotist to reach into the
inner depths of his mother's mind.  The results are as poignant as they
are funny.

 Like Nathan Englander, Max Apple
exposes the responsibilities as well as the hypocrisies inherent in
orthodox Judaism.  As "Rachel" notes in her Goodreads review
(January, 2011): "(Apple does this) without casting judgement or refuting
the religion.  He handles sensitive topics sensitively and succeeds in
examining ...a deeply personal subject without beating
it to a pulp."  This is especially true of the title story, "The Jew of
Home Depot."  In it, an 85 year old man, "surrounded by Gentles,"
arranges for an orthodox family to teach him Judaism before he dies. 
This family of eleven leaves their life in Brooklyn to
live in his home in Marshall, Texas.  What happens when these sheltered
children encounter the larger world creates both the tension and the
irony in the story.

As Ann Hodgman concludes in her beautiful review in the New York Times (January 20, 2008)
"One of the pleasures of this book is that Apple makes you feel he
knows everything about everything--or at least everything you know
nothing about: shot putting, running a liquor store or a car-salvage
operation, Chinese gymnastics, what it's like to try to sell 600,000
plastic laser swords. " His characters are three
dimensional and sympathetic.  Above all, they bear great challenges with
dignity and even humor, as if life itself was one great Jewish joke.

The Jew of Home Depot will put a smile on your lips and tears in your eyes as you acknowledge life's cruel twists.

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