"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