Apex Hides The Hurt by Colson Whitehead (#20BooksofSummer 14)

Colson Whitehead intrigues me.  I’ve now read five of his books (I just have Zone One and his two nonfiction works, The Noble Hustle and The Colossus of New York, still to read.)  I read my first Whitehead novel, John Henry Days, somewhere back around 2001 or 2002, which feels like a million years ago.  I remember loving it and feeling moved by it, although the rest of the details are kinda fuzzy. (I really want to reread it.)  Whitehead’s writing is so smart, so cerebral and insightful and often wryly funny.  He fearlessly mashes up genres and challenges me, and I can’t stop wanting to read his work.

51qgfytS15L._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_Apex Hides the Hurt is a quirky little book (212 pages) that felt a lot longer, unfortunately.  Our nameless protagonist is a “nomenclature consultant” (irony!) who is hired to help figure out a new name for the town of Winthrop.  The three members of the city council are all pulling him in different directions.  The mayor, Regina Goode, is descended from the original black settlers of the town, who christened it Freedom.  Lucky Aberdeen, software CEO, wants to rebrand it New Prospera and bring in new people and new jobs.  And town eccentric, Albie Winthrop, is descended from the original Winthrop (a barbed-wire manufacturer) who renamed the town after himself.

Our hero is holed up in the Hotel Winthrop over a few days, drinking, talking to locals and conference goers, musing over his recent events in his life which have left him physically injured and jobless.  He engages in a rather funny war with the hotel’s cleaning woman over the state of his room.  We find out that, in his old job as a marketing wunderkind, he came up with the name for a brand of adhesive bandages that were made in various shades of brown and black, to match various ethnicities, called Apex.  We later find out how an Apex bandage figures into his injury and his breakdown.

Isn’t it great when you’re a kid and the whole world is full of anonymous things?  He coughed into his sleeve.  Everything is bright and mysterious until you know what it is called and then all the light goes out of it.  All those flying gliding things are just birds.  And etc.  Once we knew the name of it, how could we ever come to love it?  He told himself: What he had given to all those things had been the right name, but never the true name.  For things had true natures, and they hid behind false names, beneath the skin we gave them.

This is an interesting book filled with clever observations, dazzling sentences, and quirky conversations.  But it never all came together for me.  I appreciated it.  I’m glad I read it, as I want to read everything Colson Whitehead writes.  But my predominant feeling upon finishing it was one of relief.  2.5 stars, rounded up to three.

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18 thoughts on “Apex Hides The Hurt by Colson Whitehead (#20BooksofSummer 14)

  1. The only Whitehead book I know is ‘The Underground Railroad’, which I have just read for tomorrow’s Book Group. However, over lunch with a fellow member yesterday we were both saying that we wished we knew about his other works as it might help us understand style more fully. Your review is therefore very timely. Thank you.

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  2. I hadn’t realized that he’s published so much! I know you know how much I LOVED The Underground Railroad. But I’ll make sure I’ll try something else of his besides this one — especially given that I’m so annoyed with unnamed narrators right now!!

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  3. Lovely review, Laila! I’m sorry this didn’t quite hit the mark in the way Whitehead other books have for you. Now that I’ve read your review, I appreciate the title of the book so much more! That alone implies there is quite a bit of wit between these pages. But it’s a bit lost if things don’t come together.

    …Without any spoilers, does our narrator help the town out? Or is this really just a collection of stories about our narrator and the townspeople in Winthrop?

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    1. Yes – I am pretty sure the title is working on another level too. There’s a lot going on here and honestly I’m not sure I really “got” all that this book was trying to tell me.

      Well, near the end there is a suggestion from the narrator, but how the town responds is up in the air.

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  4. A “nomenclature consultant”?! Well, now I kinda have to read this! The first I read of his was Zone One, when he was due to attend a favourite literary festival a few years back, and I loved it (it’s NOT your typical dystopian novel – slow and character-driven) so I’ve done a great job of collecting the others (not reading them – not yet, anyway). This one I missed, but now I’ll have to go a’hunting!

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