August 2008

Beth Harrington

fiction

Apples by Richard Milward

Apples, the debut novel of twenty-three year-old Richard Milward, traces the exploits of a gang of British teenagers through the eyes of two narrators: Adam -- a shy and neurotic recluse, who spends most of his time in his room listening to records and fending off the rages of his father, and Eve -- the too-hot-to-trot object of his lust and affection. Eve has just learned that her mother has advanced lung cancer, but that does not prevent her from spending most of her nights out drinking, dancing, and dropping ecstasy with her friends and assorted male admirers. Meanwhile, Adam watches Eve from a distance and ponders what someone like him must do to catch the attention of someone like her.

While Apples supposes itself, at least on one level, to be a love story, it will be hard for some readers -- particularly those of greater age than the characters in the book -- not to see it as an exposé on the gritty lives of the post-millennial generation. The situations detailed in this book transgress far beyond the cliché shockers of underage drinking and anonymous hookups to sexual and drug-fueled violence told with such understated removal that it is unclear whether the author is passing judgment on his generation or merely acknowledging it.

This undefined morality on the part of the author is perhaps the book’s greatest strength and weakness. Since time immemorial elders have been writing about the amorality of the prodigal "next generation" and when the author is a member of the designated newer age group he runs the risk of coming off as a tattletale, eagerly selling out his peers in exchange for the approbation of those bearing seniority. It is risky business for an author to blatantly pass judgment on the characters in his book. That being said, scenes of drunken rapes, a child assaulting his father so that the latter winds up in a coma, and a mother dropping her infant off of a bridge, are carried off with such impulsivity and so little emotional connection or gravity, that it is hard to take them seriously or perceive them as grounded in the plot. One is left to wonder if the author’s intent was to sketch out a Dystopian culture in which seemingly ordinary adolescents are capable of the most searing atrocities without conscience, or whether he merely copped to an edgier degree of shock value.

Perhaps the novel’s moral ambivalence is best illustrated by two contrasting quotes from Adam that occur only pages apart from one another towards the book’s conclusion: “She meant more to me than just getting a stiffy. Boys were idiots if they just wanted to put their willies in a hole rather than care about someone,” and then “Here’s my advice to you -- if you ever get the chance to lose your virginity, you should grab it.” Which of these quotes is Apples's ultimate thesis is hard to identify. Though the content of the novel does become gratuitous, and the characters don’t quite leap off the page, with its penchant for British slang and adolescent hedonism, Apples might prove worth checking out for those who appreciate the literary tradition established by the likes of fellow Brit Melvin Burgess, etc.

Apples by Richard Milward
Canongate
ISBN: 1847671780
208 pages