Apex Hides the Hurt: A Novel Paperback – Jan 9 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Following the novels The Intuitionist (1998) and John Henry Days (2001), and the nonfiction The Colossus of New York (2004), a paean to New York City, Whitehead disappoints in this intriguingly conceived but static tale of a small town with an identity crisis.A conspicuously unnamed African-American "nomenclature consultant" has had big success in branding Apex bandages, which come in custom shades to match any skin tone. The "hurt" of the Apex tag line is deviously resonant, poetically invoking banal scrapes and deep-seated, historical injustice; both types of wounds are festering in the town of Winthrop, which looks like a midwestern anytown but was founded by ex-slaves migrating during Reconstruction. Winthrop's town council, locked in a dispute over the town's name, have called in the protagonist to decide. Of the three council members, Mayor Regina Goode, who is black and a descendant of the town's founders, wants to revert to the town's original name, Freedom. "Lucky" Aberdine, a white local boy turned software magnate, favors the professionally crafted New Prospera; and no-visible-means-of-support "Uncle Albie" Winthrop (also white) sees no sense in changing the town's long-standing name—which, of course, happens to be his own.Quirky what's-in-a-name?–style pontificating follows, and it often feels as if Whitehead is just thinking out loud as the nomenclature consultant weighs the arguments, meets the citizens and worries over the mysterious "misfortune" that has recently shaken his faith in his work (and even taken one of his toes). The Apex backstory spins out in a slow, retrospective treatment that competes with the town's travails. The bickering runs its course listlessly, and a last-minute discovery provides a convenient, bittersweet resolution. Whitehead's third novel attempts to confront a very large problem: How can a society progress while keeping a real sense of history—when a language for that history doesn't exist and progress itself seems bankrupt? But he doesn't give the problem enough room enough to develop, and none of his characters is rich enough to give it weight.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*Starred Review* Whitehead, a MacArthur fellow, continues his shrewd and playful inquiry into the American soul in a fresh and provocative tale about a man who comes up with catchy product names. A consultant who names things yet who remains nameless, his claim to fame is the brand name Apex for multiculturally hued Band-Aids. Curiously, he has lost a toe under peculiar circumstances that jibe with the cost of hiding the hurt, per the Apex tagline, and now, limping and moody, he arrives in Winthrop, a small town determined to rename itself. He visits with the last Winthrop, the eccentric descendant of the family that once bankrolled the town with its barbed-wire factory, and is schmoozed by Lucky, CEO of the town's current money magnet, a software company, and Regina, the town's mayor, who traces her roots to the freed slaves who founded the town and called it Freedom. As his stoic hero broods over Winthrop's mixed and vaguely menacing messages, Whitehead marvels over the inventive extravagance and frenzy of American commercialism. Kindred spirit to Stanley Elkin, William Gaddis, and Paul Auster, Whitehead archly explicates the philosophy of excess and the poetics of ludicrousness, and he incisively assesses the power inherent in the act of naming. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
That sentiment may very well be appropriate for Shakespeare's Juliet but not for the protagonist of Colson Whitehead's new novel "Apex Hides the Hurt". Names are everything to this `nomenclature consultant', who ironically enough remains nameless throughout, who has a preternatural ability to name or rename products in a way that will generate sales.
In a word in which `form' or flash is everything and `function' or utility is of only secondary importance the ability to create a hot brand through the use of the right name is a most useful asset. The man with no name is a star in the world of nomenclature consultants. His re-branding of a company that makes poorly constructed bandages (a minnow compared to the huge "Band-Aid" brand) results in the commercial revitalization of the company. The company makes a variety of flesh color bandages with various tones shipped on the basis of the predominant ethnicity of a zip code. Because one can barely see the bandage because of its skin tone match the slogan "Apex Hides the Hurt" is a tremendous success.
Not so successful is the man with no name's inner and outter life. An injury to his toe causes an infection, one which an Apex bandage hid for far too long. He leaves his job and takes up the life of a hermit, albeit in a nice Manhattan apartment. As the story develops we see that the injury to his toe may just be indicative of another hurt, one that is hidden by something other than a bandage.
He is lured out of retirement to rename the town of Winthrop. The town of Winthrop is something of a place located at the intersection of American race relations. It was originally settled shortly after the Civil War by a group of freed slaves and named Freedom. Its name was changed to Winthrop after a white settler who created a successful barbed wire company managed to talk one of the two (African-American) town leaders to agree on a name change. Now, 140 years later the town is being pressured to change its name once again. A new age entrepreneur (think of a mix of Bill Gates and self-help guru Tony Robbins) want to change the town's name from Winthrop to New Prospera. The man with no name travels to Winthrop and wanders from the New Prospera faction, the remaining Winthrop heir, and the African-American descendants of the town's founders. As the story unfolds the story of the town of Winthrop and a bit of the inner life of the man with no name are revealed.
Earlier reviewers have indicated that Apex Hides the Hurt suffers from some inadequate character development. I believe that to be a fair critique and not something I would argue with. However, after having read and enjoyed Whitehead's "Intuitionist" and "John Henry Days" I did not open the book looking for character development. The emotional core of Whitehead's earlier works is the interior life of its protagonists. In both "The Intuitionist" and "John Henry Days" Colson provides the reader with a successful person of color experiencing a great deal of painful self-examination as they move through a world that does not `hide the hurt' it inflicts on designated outsiders. "Apex Hides the Hurt" was just what I expected. Its focus was on the man with no name, a man who names things and knows the value of names and who also knows how names can hide the hurt or expose a truth. Whitehead does not diagram things for his readers. He does not tell the reader what to think of the story nor does he feel the need to explain his use of imagery. The imagery and meaning running discussion of the protagonist's toe injury, the magnitude of what the Apex bandage hid under its flesh-toned gauze, is not spelled out for the reader. I find it satisfying and enjoyable when an author simply writes and expects the reader to find his or her own meaning and that is one reason I remain a fan of Whitehead's work.
As noted by others, if you are looking for a book rich in character development "Apex Hides the Hurt" may not be to your taste. However, if you are looking for a book that explores the thought processes of someone who is marginally alienated from mainstream society while being quite successful in working in that system, I think you will enjoy "Apex Hides the Hurt".
But back to the protagonist. He's a black man who has been called to the town of Winthrop to rename it. One faction wants the name to stay the same; another wants it returned to the name that the town received from its pioneering, African-American founders, "Freedom"; and yet another wants to rename it "New Prospera" to compliment its modern, high-tech, capitalist orientation. Our hero is just recovering from a large setback in his career and personal life, so the pressure to pull off this job is high for him. Unfortunately, the reader is given little reason to make a similar investment in the novel.
Despite Whitehead's stunning, linguistic inventiveness, his protagonist's work never seems like much of a challenge, and the plot is thin, thin, thin. Sure, there is enough great stuff here that it could have been put to good use somehow, and the ending does finally--for the first time in the book--pack a significant punch. But for a good portion of the book, the story just spins its wheels, going nowhere that's very interesting. By my reckoning (using an admittedly unorthodox algebra) the climax to the story would have had twice the impact if this 200-page book had been half as long--had been, say, a 75- or 100-page novella.
The book goes down very easily, like a hip-hop commercial or a poem by Paul Beatty. It an amusing advertising novel, a light version of Toni Morrison's Paradise, a riff on The Great Gatsby, a post-modern sonata about syllables, names, and the human condition. It's mainly funny: you read it with mouth cocked between a sneer (at society, at us) and a grin. I'm eager to go back and read his other two novels.
What is in a name? Apparently a lot. Colson Whitehead's Apex Hides The Hurt takes a satirical look at the question and the answer, but also ingeniously blends in other aspects of cultural spoofs as we follow the adventures of a quirky (somewhat weird) "nomenclature consultant."
The story opens in the aftermath of the unnamed protagonist's most recent marketing success --the multi-cultural bandage, Apex, designed to match any skin tone. When he uses the bandage to "hide the hurt" of his repeatedly stubbed toe, he mistakenly buys the marketing hype (masking the pain) and continuously ignores a rather obvious gangrenous infection that eventually leads to the amputation of his toe resulting in a future filled with periods of imbalance, a noticeable limp and bouts of vertigo (confusion).
Following the amputation, his first job comes from the townsfolk of a mythical Winthrop. He is hired to name the town because the town council members are in vehement disagreement. The cutting edge software guru, Lucky Aberdeen, with a vision for the future wants to name the town New Prospera. The grounded African American mayor, Regina Goode, a descendent of the town's original freed slave founders, wants the name to be Freedom, what her ancestors named it originally. Lastly, Albie Winthrop, the wealthy, eccentric (and a bit shady) descendent of the white business man who brokered with the former slaves and renamed the town after himself wants to retain the name, Winthrop, for the town. They bring in a consultant to settle the argument and choose a name that must remain in use for at least one year. He avoids bribes, is misquoted in the newspaper, and eventually starts digging into the history of the town and finds that everyone has an ulterior motive as well as self-indulgent/satisfying justification for their name choice. He ironically finds the solution and the most fitting name for the town within the pages of history.
The novel is an admirable offering - it offers thought-provoking themes, timely topics, very clever parallels, and original delivery of the overall story. However, I found the characters were wholly underdeveloped, the dialogue scarce, and the pacing a bit slow, taking a while to get to the point of the book and then a rather abrupt ending. At the novel's end, I was left thinking - that's it? Maybe with a little more depth, I would have rated it a bit higher.
Reviewed by Phyllis
Nubian Circle Book Club
There's no other explanation for so ridiculous a dismissal of this deft, elegant, intelligent novel.
"Apex" is a gently fabulist, quietly clever, beautifully written book that recalls such writers as Zadie Smith and Percival Everett; it both echoes and holds its own alongside laureled novels exploring similar territory - language, identity, history, meaning - including All The Names by Jose Saramago and The Names by Don DeLillo.
Any thoughtful reader of contemporary literary fiction is sure to appreciate and admire this very fine new addition to an already impressive ouevre by a formidably talented writer.