Eat the Apple offers up a wild ride through basic training and combat zones to time spent at home attempting to reintegrate within society.
One of the most important things to note when approaching Matt Young’s Eat the Apple is the phrase implied by its title. A former Marine, Young embodies the spirit of those disillusioned by their time spent in the Marine Corps; as the saying goes, “Eat the apple, fuck the Corps.” The title effectively colors Young’s narrative direction and stylistic variances throughout the course of the memoir.
Young’s writing style grows, shifts and changes along with him as he progresses through the recounting of his time spent in the United States Marine Corps, moving from a smart alecky tone to one more introspective and nuanced. This isn’t to say Eat the Apple is a spiraling rollercoaster ride that plunges from satire to stoicism, rather that Young’s narrative approach mirrors his own personal journey. When we’re first introduced, Young presents himself in the third person, running down a list of the self-destructive tendencies that ultimately led him to enlist. It’s a humorously self-debasing approach that quickly establishes Young as one of the many lost and frustrated young American males hell-bent on getting that next drink or girl or drug to keep life even the slightest bit interesting.
But as more is revealed, we come to find that Young has a number of deeper issues that he has essentially refused to face head-on and, rather than dealing with them in a mature manner, he continues down his previously established path towards self-destruction. Burning bridges left and right and generally being a shitty human being, Young has few redeeming qualities. And yet the narrative arc is still one of redemption, if more closely associated with Dante than a more traditional heroic journey. Young must go through the literal and figurative hell of being in a war zone, seeing friends die and realizing he very much does not want to die in order to come to any sort of deeper personal realization.
What’s most intriguing about Young’s approach is his subtle use of pronoun variants designed to help the reader through the process in which a new recruit is broken down, the self is lost and the me becomes we. By writing about himself in the third person he’s able to distance himself from the brash young man he was–one hell-bent on fire storming everything in his path–to a wizened old Marine who has seen much and learned even more.
This approach, coupled with the myriad stylistic and tonal shifts, makes Eat the Apple come across almost as a series of interstitial sketches joined by the overarching theme of just how shitty the business of war in all its levels and forms truly is. From faux self-help chapters (“How to Ruin a Life”) to instructional diagrams (“How to Make a Portable Partner (Patent Pending)”) to a brief play (“Love Story”) to letters from his future self, Young tries nearly every literary device imaginable on for size as he furthers his quest to figure out just who (and how) he wants to be.
Alternately offering up wickedly dark humor and surprising amounts of pathos, Eat the Apple is a unique take on the memoir, its subject pulling no punches in terms of his own shortcomings, and offering up a wild ride through basic training and combat zones to time spent at home attempting to reintegrate within society. Through these multiple stylistic shifts, all his disparate personae come together in a variety of stylistic approaches to form one cohesive whole. Harrowing, humorous and ultimately humanizing, Eat the Apple is a fascinating look into the mind of a Marine by default.