Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
"What's in a name? That which we call a roseApril 6 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
By any other word would smell as sweet."
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".
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
an interesting idea, stretched too thinMay 19 2006
A. C. Walter
- Published on Amazon.com
The protagonist of "Apex Hides the Hurt" is a "nomenclature consultant," a guy who names stuff--products, businesses, etc.--and yet he, himself, is given no name in the novel. It's a bit of an obvious stunt, but then so are most of Whitehead's techniques here. His concern is style: clever, rhythmic prose, language that surprises and delights. ("He was watching an old black and white movie on television, the kind of flick where nothing happened unless it happened to strings. Every facial twitch had its own score. Every smile ate up two and a half pages of sheet music.") And Whitehead's themes are all very obvious; he dives straight through the surface to play down there in the dark with subtext. Which can work for you, or not--all depending on how patient a reader you are.
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.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
You Can Bandage But You Can't HideJuly 1 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
When I finished this brilliant meditation on naming and essence, I thought about the untold hours that Colson Whitehead (like most of us) must have spent contemplating his own name. Is it a nom de plume? I don't think so, but then what isn't? As Apex Hides the Hurt makes painfully clear, names are temporary things, seldom expressing the essential truth. They hide the hurt, the suppurating wound that will eventually grow into an exotic, diverse company of organisms that requires surgery. Thinking about this wonderful book, images, names, and themes rise not just to the surface but to that apex where the exhilarating overview makes the reader forget disturbing, dislocated, lonely story that has just unfolded. The unnamed nomenclature consultant who narrates the story, a slob to whom names come all too easily, twitches with self-consciousness, casual and defensive cruelty, and a sort of intellectual righteous indignation masked by immersion in popular culture and simple desire for love that he knows he doesn't deserve. He's familiar. He has a great sense of humor, a finger on the cultural zeitgeist, and a voice that makes him as a brother with such illustrious forebears as Mark Twain, Ralph Ellison, Richard Pryor, or Charles Johnson. His bitterness and his honesty are earned; his humor comes from a straightforward glimpse into the dark side of human nature.
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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
What Shall We Call Ourselves?March 30 2006
Pretty Brown Girl
- Published on Amazon.com
"You call something by a name, you fix it in place. A thing or a person, it didn't matter - the name you gave it allowed you to draw a bead, take aim, shoot. But there was a flip side of calling something by the name you gave it - and that was wanting to be called by the name that you gave to yourself. What is the name that will give me the dignity and respect that is my right? The key that will unlock the world." Colsen Whitehead, Apex Hides The Hurt
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
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
An exceptional work.March 21 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
I can only imagine that the previous reviewer, Mr. "Hawthorne", is an envy-sickened writer whose own work has yet to see the light of day (hardly surprising, if the clumsy prose of his vituperative, self-righteous, benighted reviews of young, successful writers are any indication of his abilities).
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.