In Aimee Bender’s short story “Appleless,” in The Blue Issue of Fairy Tale Review, an anonymous narrator and his friends are fascinated by a woman who refuses to eat apples. Their lives revolve around the apple orchards and constantly describe their hunger and pleasure in eating the colorful fruit, thus, the narrator and his cohorts want none other than to have the woman join them. Initially, I naïvely believed that “Appleless,” was playing with the idea of examining the life of person who did not enjoy one of the most stereotypically common foods in literature and reality. As probably the rest of the world noted immediately, however, “Appleless” is rife with sexual under and overtones, focusing on the questions of temptation and innocence, elements that I managed to miss until the shocking climax of the story. Despite their pleading and persuasion, the woman refuses to try an apple, and so one day, the narrator and the other men are overcome by their “hunger,” and rape the girl. At the story’s end, the narrator speaks of his longing for the woman to return, his stomach rumbling as apples fall to the ground unwanted and untouched.
The world of “Appleless,” is more like the darker side of the Eden myth; rather than Eve tempting Adam with the apple, it is the narrator and his comrades who are the bringers of temptation, and in this case, bring about their own fall from Paradise. The woman refuses to even walk through orchards, choosing instead to maintain her course on the dirt road. In a sense, the nameless, shifting narrator, who moves between “I” and “we” in his observations, has already fallen; though he and his companions seem to be enraptured by apples, noting the “steaks of woven jade and beige,” (30) the “dark and rosy Rome Beauties,” (30), they remain unsated, never venturing beyond their grove and excess. When they rape the girl, not only do they allow their lusts overwhelm themselves, but they destroy the only true beauty and innocence in their world, completing their fall. The apples fall around them, listless wraiths starving beneath the trees.
I hate to use this phrase, but there is definitely more food for thought in the deceptively short two pages of “Appleless.” There are so many levels of symbolism and allusion ranging from Biblical themes to medieval mythology to Grimm fairytales. I would be interested in thoughts and opinions on the story; six read-throughs later, and I think I have only begun to scratch the surface. The text is available at www.fairytalereview.com.