I LOVE GOOTIE by Max Apple


My Grandmother's Story
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This nostalgic sequel to novelist Apple’s Roommates (1994), about his extraordinary grandfather, focuses on the author’s less charismatic but equally original grandmother. Gootie was born in 1881 in a Lithuanian shtetl and grew up with all of the superstitions of that rural Old World culture (including spitting in all four directions to ward off the “evil eye”). Apple makes plain, though, that she was far more than a stock figure drawn from Fiddler on the Roof. She was the calming influence on her hotheaded husband, Rocky, and although she seemed to defer to him, she in fact quietly controlled her turbulent household—and captivated her grandson. She adapted to life in small-town Michigan with aplomb, without sacrificing her identity. As an outsider, she offered some sharp criticisms of American society, keeping her grandson from too wholehearted an embrace of pop culture. She worried about him forgetting his traditions. And she fretted about his girlfriends, comparing one (an avid horseback rider) to a marauding Cossack. She was suspicious of people too ready to embrace modernity, especially in matters of courtship and matchmaking, observing that “the cat and dog are modern too . . . they just go out into the street.” Her own attempts at matchmaking were disastrous but add much to the book’s fine humor. The last 50 pages are less engaging, as Apple finishes high school and leaves for college. As he reads to her in his final hospital visit, Gootie gets in some parting shots about college book learning and Western civilization in general. “Shakespeare is not worth five cents,” she concludes, and “most of the classics are about whores.” Gootie left her grandson a rich inheritance of Yiddish culture and folk wisdom, and a love of storytelling. Apple’s biography is thus also about the source of his unique writer’s mind; listening to Gootie, it’s easy to see the origin of his ability to spin a good story. Fresh, affectionate, and moving.

Pub Date: May 5th, 1998
ISBN: 0-446-52074-8
Page count: 224pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1998