Alex Kim is an American. He was born in Grosse Pointe. He is an American citizen and takes special pains to reiterate this during his narration. Nonetheless, others, including his own family, often think of him as Korean. Because of his skin and his parents he is labeled, despite his efforts to fit in. This conflict dominates the novel “Apple Pie” by David Mazzotta.
Alex takes excruciating pains to emphasize his American nature. His life is like that of any other University of Michigan student, if perhaps a little more challenging in some aspects. His roommates are nerds in every sense of the word. He has a steady girlfriend. He juggles part-time jobs. An average student, he struggles in his classes, dislikes some of his professors and considers switching out of his major of aerospace engineering, despite his dominating father”s wishes. He uses Cliff”s Notes and in general defies the stereotype of the typical Asian student.
Kim”s slacker and romantic desires make him a fun protagonist. He wants to be swept up in passion, to fall in love and forget everything. At other times, all he wants to do is forget about his school and money woes and play midnight frisbee golf in the Arb with his closest friend, K.J. One of his mantras is “The only life worth pursuing is the easy one.”
Alex”s girlfriend Sarah is a sweet Korean-American girl, but romantically she is unresponsive at best, barely reacting to Alex at times. Thus, when Alex meets the stunning Naomi, a beautiful blonde co-worker, he starts to question his relationship with Sarah. This isn”t easy, since in the Korean community, he and Sarah are practically engaged. Still, Naomi”s mystique and beauty constantly remind him of all that his love life could be.
For a comedic look at college life, author David Mazzotta does write some significant and poignant scenes. In one of the most haunting, Kim sees a seven-year-old Korean girl on television, spelling words left and right, unemotional. The sight of this tragic figure haunts Alex throughout his rocky relationship with Sarah and throughout the whole novel.
Mazzotta, originally from Southfield, attended the University. In “Apple Pie,” his first novel, he conveys Ann Arbor”s dynamic nature. It”s a real treat to read about his characters walking to Border”s or Espresso Royale. His greatest success, however, is in his writing of Ann Arbor”s diverse and often humorous characters. Undoubtedly, Mazzotta”s Southeastern Michigan upbringing aided his skill for bringing out the humanity in his hero Alex and his social circle.
Alex, through Naomi, meets humorous Ann Arbor-style characters like Doobie, who peppers every other sentence with a reference to his time in Vietnam, Julian, who just returned from a rainforest mission and Odium, a mildly famous poet of somewhat dubious merit who only answers to direct questions, not to statements.
Alex”s tales have a dual nature to them. While his anecdotes are terrific, he continuously feels the need to prove he is American. This reminds the reader that, beyond being a slice of college life, “Apple Pie” is also a book of struggling and emotion. Through it all, Kim”s (or Mazzotta”s) satirical commentary reigns supreme and dares the reader not to laugh out loud at Alex”s college experience.