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Eve's Apple

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Overview

Ruth Simon is beautiful, smart, talented, and always hungry. As a teenager, she starved herself almost to death, and though outwardly healed, inwardly she remains dangerously obsessed with food. For Joseph Zimmerman, Ruth's tormented relationship with eating is a source of deep distress and erotic fascination. Driven by his love for Ruth, and haunted by his own secrets, Joseph sets out to unravel the mystery of hunger and denial. This gripping debut novel is a powerful ...

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Eve's Apple: A Novel

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Overview

Ruth Simon is beautiful, smart, talented, and always hungry. As a teenager, she starved herself almost to death, and though outwardly healed, inwardly she remains dangerously obsessed with food. For Joseph Zimmerman, Ruth's tormented relationship with eating is a source of deep distress and erotic fascination. Driven by his love for Ruth, and haunted by his own secrets, Joseph sets out to unravel the mystery of hunger and denial. This gripping debut novel is a powerful exploration of appetite, love, and desire.

This poignant story of a vulnerable young woman, her lover, and the devastating disease that both unites and threatens to destroy them offers a raw and sentimental journey into the dark world of hunger and denial. Eve's Apple is an unforgettable first novel, an intricate meditation on the nature of hunger--for food, for knowledge, and for love. 384 pp. National ads & publicity. 15,000 print.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times
A quietly powerful exploration of a theme as old as the story of Adam and Eve—a subtle psychological examination." —The New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a psychologically sophisticated, almost delicate, debut, Rosen manages to portray the physical realities of eating disorders and to tie them to a host of metaphysical and moral questions about human appetite and desire. The narrator is Joseph, whose curiosity is piqued when his girlfriend Ruth's kiss tastes sickly and peculiar, leading him to suspect that her past food neurosis might be resurfacing. He begins discreetly to watch her every move, to pry in her diary for clues and to ransack the New York Public Library for everything written on anorexia and bulimia. His binge reading uncovers a psychological labyrinth of case histories and spurs his obsession with Ruth's food struggles. Rosen sheds much light on fascinating topics such as the history of fasting saints, the complex cultural and familial factors associated with eating disorders and the many philosophical questions raised by self-starvation. However, the narrative pulls only weakly, one of the main problems being that, despite some color and humor in Joseph's experience teaching English as a second language to Russian immigrants, neither he nor Ruth comes fully alive in a world wider than the one defined by their relationship. Although their concern forand knowledge ofeach other is evident, they lead rather mundane, sheltered lives. Nonetheless, Rosen's descriptions are careful and astute. His writing gathers steam, and he skillfully grafts the more bookish information onto the plot as Ruth and Joseph's fixations take them deeper into themselves. (May)
School Library Journal
YAJoseph, a young man adrift in New York City, is anchored only by his love for the beautiful, enigmatic Ruth Simon. As a teenager, she almost starved herself to death and the simple act of eating still torments her. Joseph decides to save his bulimic girlfriend as he attempts to unravel the mystery of hunger and denial during hours of research in the reading room of the public library. In the process, he finds himself more and more obsessed with her illness. This poignant, sometimes funny first novel offers a meditation on hunger and longing: for food, for knowledge, and for love. By choosing Joseph as the protagonist of the novel, Rosen softens a dark subject by showing the couple's tender and unforgettable struggle. Readers also meet the brilliant Dr. Flek, a former psychoanalyst, who believes that the rise of civilization is based on its ability to tame food; Ruth's eccentric mother; and an array of delightful Russian immigrants and coworkers in the English language school where Joseph teaches. Thoughtful, mature young adults will enjoy this tale of the foibles of an enabler who learns the dangers of helping too much and finally triumphs by realizing the errors of his ways.Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Kirkus Reviews
An elegantly written debut offers an erudite analysis of eating disorders in a less-than-persuasive fictional structure.

With a self-absorbed heroine, and a hero only slightly more sympathetic to the reader, the love story here, intended to explicate the psycho-medical theme, never catches fire. The real heart of the novel is essentially a long and often intellectually provocative essay on the varieties of hunger—for love, fame, acceptance, and the manner in which young women, especially, respond to them. Joseph and Ruth first meet in college; after graduating, they move into an apartment in New York. Joseph teaches English to Russian immigrants; Ruth, whose father pays her rent and Visa bills, wants to be an artist. She's also obsessed with her weight and has been hospitalized for anorexia. As the story opens, Joseph is beginning to suspect that Ruth is suffering a recurrence: She exercises compulsively, eats very little, and behaves erratically in restaurants. Ernest Flek, a psychologist and a friend of Ruth's divorced mother, gives the concerned Joseph a list of books to read. The list is not only eclectic—ranging from basic texts on anorexia to Kenneth Clark's study The Nude—but suggests the wider implications of eating disorders. As Joseph becomes more and more involved—he spends all of his free time researching the subject—Flek suggests that he must learn to deal with his own hungers and demons before he can help Ruth. Joseph resists, until Ruth leaves for France. As he struggles with his fears, migraines, and guilt, he eventually comes to understand that he was not responsible for his teenage sister's suicide, and that his obsessive need to monitor Ruth's illness has more to do with his own needs than hers. Ruth returns ill, but the two are ready to fight their problems together.

More research than romance, which is disappointing, because Rosen can write. It's the ideas, though, not the characters, that have life here.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312424367
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 8/4/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Rosen is the author of The Talmud and the Internet: A Journey Between Worlds and Joy Comes in the Morning. He is the editorial director of Nextbook. He lives in New York City.

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Interviews & Essays

On Monday, May 18th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Jonathan Rosen, author of EVE'S APPLE.

Ellen Wood from Portland, Maine: I read EVE'S APPLE and loved it. When I was reading it, I noted that the author was male and really marveled at your ability to describe a woman's desires and inner spirit. I am interested in how you came to write a novel about a woman's problem -- an eating disorder. What prompted you to write about this particular subject?

Jonathan Rosen: Thank you, first of all, for liking my book. Writing about a sick woman -- and making her believable -- was a challenge. I suppose I became interested in the subject of women's eating disorders in college, where I knew a great many women who seemed to have so much going for them and yet who suffered terribly over food. From the human perspective, it was painful and moving and mystifying. Novelistically, it was a great challenge because the male narrator in my book, in trying to understand his ailing girlfriend, tries to unravel the mystery not merely of her sickness but of her otherness, perhaps her femaleness -- an impossible job, of course. And I didn't want to reduce the woman to a mere object of study.


Berry Marshall from Williamsburg, Virginia: I loved your book and have recommended it to my book club. I found the themes of this book extremely compelling. My question is this: Both Ruth and Joseph are starved for things -- Ruth for food and acceptance, and Joseph for the key to unraveling Ruth's disorder. What other types of hunger did you intend these characters to represent?

Jonathan Rosen: I'm so glad you were attuned to Joseph's hunger as well as Ruth's -- that was an important element of the book for me. I think, in addition to the hunger for food and the hunger for knowledge, was the hunger for love. That is the hunger that in a sense binds these two characters together. I was also interested in juxtaposing the appetites of the immigrant students Joseph teaches -- basic hungers for food and work and apartments -- and the more complicated appetites of people like Ruth and Joseph, whose families have "made it" but who are hungry for the things people often give up when they make it in America -- embracing families, attachment to tradition, to a sense of community and home.


Joseph Peters from St. Louis, Missouri: Joseph is a very appealing character -- a man completely devoted to his girlfriend and her well-being. Do you have any special affinity for the narrator? What commonalities do you share?

Jonathan Rosen: I'm glad you like Joseph. I like him too. When I was younger, I shared a certain sense of living in limbo that I think he has, when you're an adult on paper but still not quite settled in the world. I think I also know what it means to pour your energy into loving someone and to want to save someone from the sorrow of the world. But I feel I'm different from Joseph in many ways -- and I think I feel that although he certainly loves Ruth, he needs her illness, needs to care for her. I think he needs to be educated in human relationships -- though I hope in the course of the novel he does learn a thing or two.


Monica from St. Albans: What type of research did you need to do to write a novel about eating disorders? Did you go to the library as often as your character Joseph did?

Jonathan Rosen: I did a great deal of reading for the novel -- the trick, of course, was to integrate it into the book without burdening the novel with research. Like my narrator, Joseph, I went to the library -- not quite as obsessively as he did (though writing a book can be quite obsessive) but a fair amount. I read everything I could find about the troubled relationship of people and food -- from Greek myths to lives of self-starving medieval saints who wanted to be closer to God to stories about Victorian women who became newspaper celebrities because of their ability to fast. I also read contemporary scientific studies and heartbreaking interviews with anorexics. But I was partly writing about the failure of research as well as what you learn from it, so I wasn't too afraid of leaving something out. I knew I would.


Elise from Brooklyn, New York: There is a rather sad, dark underside to this book. At the end of EVE'S APPLE, Joseph is talking on the phone to Dr. Ranji, Ruth's doctor at the hospital, and he asks how people can get so bad (i.e. how Ruth could have nearly starved herself without anyone doing anything). The doctor replies, "When society itself is ill, noticing illness in others isn't easy -- sometimes it doesn't happen until too late." Mr. Rosen, can you explain this further?

Jonathan Rosen: I think that what the doctor means is that what our society values are often things that make us sick. The notion that to be thin is to be attractive is of course the most obvious and the most relevant for the book. As a society we value money and there is nothing wrong with money, but someone who works all the time and ignores his family and friends, his inner life so that he can work, may appear an outwardly prosperous man but he is inwardly ailing. Women struggling with food often appear to have everything: They please others, they are beautiful and smart, and yet they are inwardly ailing. It's too simple to blame society, but certainly our culture prizes things that do make people sick.


Megan H. from New York City: What is the significance of the two quotes -- by Milton and Kafka -- that you include before chapter one?

Jonathan Rosen: The quote from Milton is from the first line of PARADISE LOST. Milton is saying that the whole story he has to tell -- essentially the story of why we are the way we are -- is because of "the fruit of that forbidden tree." I don't accept the notion of original sin, but I think we tell ourselves that story because there is something primal in our hunger for knowledge and in our sense of ourselves as being sinful beings, burdened by the flesh. I wanted an echo of that earlier story in my reader's ear. The Kafka quote is from a story I love called "A Hunger Artist." In it, a man fasts and fasts and fasts and is displayed in a circus. But when he tells the circus overseer that he always wanted to be admired for fasting and the man says, "We do admire your fasting," the hunger artist says, "But you shouldn't admire it..." That little exchange fits my novel well -- Ruth wants to be admired for her fasting but in the end wants to be saved from it. In my mind, Jewish Kafka answers Protestant Milton. Kafka says: It's bad to afflict the flesh, to reject the body. For me the two quotes work together. They both reflect moods I know.


Daniel M. from San Francisco, California: Your character Joseph was obsessively drawn to fixing Ruth. I knew as I was reading that something else must be behind this total absorption -- even beyond his tortuous memories of his sister's suicide. Why was Joseph so fascinated by illness?

Jonathan Rosen: I think, as you correctly observe, Joseph's own buried, sad, secret history leads him towards Ruth, even if he doesn't understand it at the time. But I think there's something fascinating -- as well as repellent -- about illness. And something instructive. Freud, after all, derived his theories about well people by studying sick people -- it was the obsessives, the hysterics, the psychotics that taught him what he considered to be the fundamentals of human behavior. But I also think we live in a culture that outwardly professes a deep devotion to health and fitness but that is secretly obsessed with the sick, the troubled, the tortured, the abused. I wonder if this isn't a leftover sense people have of the secretly sinful nature of being human. Whatever the reason, it's in the air and Joseph's absorbed it.


Renee from Charleston: I read that you are a journalist. How do you think this affects your approach to writing fiction? Did you feel fiction allowed you to say different things that an essay couldn't?

Jonathan Rosen: I absolutely think fiction lets you say different things, and I can't imagine the nonfiction version of this story. One thing you feel when you're a journalist is the need for facts and information. Joseph feels that hunger for knowledge too -- he goes to the library to read about eating disorders because his girlfriend has one and gets so carried away he actually looks her name up on the library computer. But the education of the human heart is impossible to show in an article. And in a novel, one can do several things at once -- I could share the information Joseph learns about women and food even as I'm partly illustrating the failure of mere information. And I could express the part of myself that is like Joseph -- the part that wishes to heal and help and nourish, even as I indulged some other darker side that could imagine Ruth, eating each tiny crumb with scrupulous care, wishing to throw off the burden of the body and be free.


Emily Stewart from Washington, D.C.: I haven't read EVE'S APPLE but I have heard a lot of good things about it and plan on buying it soon. Can you tell us in your own words what it is about?

Jonathan Rosen: I suppose I'd say it's a novel about a man who loves a woman who is sick and who tries to heal her, embarking on a kind of journey to unravel the mystery of her illness -- only to discover in the process that he -- like all of us -- has his own demons. But I should immediately say that summarizing a book is painful, because it's giving in to a sort of anorexic impulse to strip away the body of the book and replace it with some airy essence. It's tempting because novels are so messy, but I hope the book lives in its messiness.

Jonathan Rosen: I'd like to thank you for the chance to do this. The immediacy of being online, which I've never experienced before, is exhilarating. Also, I'd like to thank the participants -- the questions were terrific and I feel people read my book with real depth and openness. Partly because of the online experience, and certainly because of the people out there, I've never felt so connected to readers before (and all while sitting at my desk). Thank you!


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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2000

    Understanding

    I finally understood what my own eating disorder has been doing to the people i love.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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