Apple, Tree: Writers on Their Parents by Lise Funderburg | Book Review

Apple, Tree

Author: Lise Funderburg

Illustrator: Nathan Putens

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press

Published: September 2019

Genres: Biography, Nonfiction, Memoir

Pages: 232

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“I suppose there’s a pleasure in that wistfulness too–in remembering the way something was and holding tight to what will also one day be a memory.”                     – Lauren Grodstein, “Around the Table” from Apple, Tree

Childhood is reverse parenting. Growing up takes on the responsibility of becoming, which is found in the adults who rear the child. Growing down however leads one to becoming what is else, what is more, what is unexpected. Apple, Tree: Writers on Their Parents by Lise Funderburg explores the adolescent trappings and developments of its contributors, starting from the root and out to the branch where gravity took a hold of them and plotted them in front of the parental gaze. Far pass Freudian theory, this collection on child rearing and family dynamics informs the writer’s life as something both undesirable and desirable as bath time. The dichotomous relationship of the apple (child) and the tree (parent) can be felt first in the bifurcation by the comma in the book’s title. Difference within or between family members is not always apparent, but as the tree holds the apple, the parent holds onto the child, until the child notices just how far out of reach the parent is and vice versa. The proverbial fall experienced by these collected writers attempts to find out if this transition into adulthood should be a rude awakening or a heedful reminder.

A running theme in Apple, Tree is the child who believes to possess large philosophies while the parents have small ones. It is not until they have aged that they realize it is the opposite. In some cases, these philosophies are challenged. Reading Shukree Hassan Tilghman’s piece, “Lies My Parents (Never But Maybe) Should’ve Told Me,” one finds the impossibly delicate veil that lies between humoring a white lie and the, sometimes, harrowing truth at the end of its punchline. In Avi Steinberg’s “Household Idols” and Donna Masini’s “What We Keep,” stories of heirlooms are rummaged for in what would be the unmistakable home of an accidental, sometimes purposeful, hoarder. Some authors here have struggled with identifying with their parents, sharing similar appearance (“Sisters” by Ann Patchett) or judgment (“One Man’s Poison” by Kyoko Mori). A chance to pervade rather than drown in the genetic pool still exists yet. From her story, “Unlived Lives,” Laura Miller writes that parents “can be the most familiar people in the world and total strangers; they have a dark side like the moon, that’s invisible to us as long as we remain locked in the fixed orbit of the parent-child bond” (87). Dissidence and denial delineates and loosely defines the duality a parent and child share. Daniel Mendelsohn’s mother has a neat-freak personality, for example, causing her to chase the life she could have had by keeping her house a spotless sheen in the hopes that time lost will return to her. It is behaviors like this, the need to meet perfection, that leave both the parent and child less than imperfect.

Funderburg mentions in her introduction that Apple, Tree is an exploration of “the space between the apple and the tree…” She also quotes John Freedman as saying that this exploration of family is a “love [that] is in clarity, not sentiment” (Funderburg xii). Perhaps there is no one answer to all the unanswered questions children may have for their parents. Parents too, may not know or have all the answers themselves until their children come up with better questions. The theory that the apple does not fall from the tree must have some truth in it. Maybe the answers present themselves only in practice? Here is one more attempt to answer a proverb with another: when the apple is ripe, it will fall.

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It’s been two years since the start of my blog.

I admit, it was two experimental years, but this time it will be different. That’s the intention anyway. Blogging can be a strange plane of existence. It is much different from the headspace you get when you have a pen and pad in hand. As I sit here writing (or typewriting for the hipsters out there, or not, you be you!), I notice that staring at a blank screen with the insertion point cursor bar blinking awkwardly in place excites me. Its allure can be entrancing.

We both want that exchange of Rubik’s cube speed, key to finger, finger to key. I almost got sensual there; not all sex sells ladies and gentleman. When ever I take to the keyboard or loose-leaf paper, I don’t necessarily take to it with a certain urgency, although at times I would like that precious thought to surface. For me, writing is more like LEGOs. You have this beautiful creation on the box and when you open it up, what do you have? Bags of bricks waiting to be assembled, step by step.

Writing can be a weary endeavor, but it is a fun kind of weary. The effort you put into it is a reward in itself after you come to see your final project and say with disbelief, “I wrote that?” The goal is to surprise yourself, and then when you least expect it, surprise others. Why a blog then? A few reasons actually. Blogging, like writing, is a lot like hunting. It can catch your feelings and thoughts in an instant or it can go on a long chase to get the words out of you. I have been on a chase for two years and some of you will attest that is not very long, but I will say this. The hunt has me excited and the game will only just be out of reach. What good is writing if I can expect it all the time?

To blog is to write, no matter how trivial it may sound to the person who asks. All the more reason to show them its purpose. I think of the blog as a short assignment, somewhere you can serve your thoughts as appetizers before the main course hits the table. Blogs of course are not limited to just words, we can read pictures, music, people, any topic can be read and written about. If you can read, write, and if you can write, please read. Which leads me to the pursuit of voice: who am I speaking to?

Hopefully somebody, preferably you. No not you, you. Yes, the collective you. Audience is the people who decide to relish in the task of reading you, watching you, suspending their disbelief with you. Consider yourself as audience, think of all the fans, fandoms, and fanfictions you find yourself a part of and ask, is this something I would want to partake in? Write for you and in turn you will write for the collective you; you just won’t realize it.

When I was first starting out, most of my posts were reflection pieces. They were “a day in the life” without any real takeaway for anyone else but myself. The original plan was to establish advice for readers from my experiences, but only so much wisdom can come from a first-year student in college. Observations were made but the semblance of advice was left to be questioned, or so I asked the readers. I’ve decided instead to make Wiggins’ Words a literary blog since English Literature is my major of choice. Not only that, what I’ve read and written over these couple years has been, I feel, the start I was looking for.

The blog embodies not only your reader, but yourself. Being a writer must be the best job description in the world, you get to be so many things! Now, it will just be you, your keyboard, a screen and your friend insertion point. Then, it will be readers and writers who share in the commonwealth of the thought process you set out for each other. Again, that is the vision and it’s good to keep it in your sights. What I’m writing here right now could be just the spur of the moment. It could be a thorough and time-consumed post. It won’t be any of those things however, if you don’t write anything.