Synopses & Reviews
From the MacArthur and Whiting Awardwinning author of John Henry Days
and The Intuitionist
comes a new, brisk, comic tour de force about identity, history, and the adhesive bandage industry.
When the town of Winthrop needed a new name for their town, they did what anyone would do they hired a consultant.
The protagonist of Apex Hides the Hurt is a nomenclature consultant. If you want just the right name for your new product, be it automobile or antidepressant, sneaker or spoon, he's the man to get the job done. Wardrobe lack pizzazz? Come to the Outfit Outlet. Always the wallflower at social gatherings? Try Loquacia.
And of course, whenever you take a fall, reach for Apex, because Apex Hides the Hurt. Apex is his crowning achievement, the multicultural bandage that has revolutionized the adhesive bandage industry. Flesh-colored be damned no matter what your skin tone is, Apex will match it or your money back.
After leaving his job (following a mysterious misfortune), his expertise is called upon by the town of Winthrop. Once there, he meets the town council, who will try to sway his opinion over the coming days.
Our expert must decide the outcome, with all its implications for the town's future. Which name will he choose? Or perhaps he will devise his own? And what's with his limp, anyway?
Apex Hides the Hurt brilliantly and wryly satirizes our contemporary culture, where memory and history are subsumed by the tides of marketing.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In spare and evocative prose, Whitehead does Shakespeare one better: What's in a name, and how does our identity relate to our own sense of who we are?" Library Journal
"Cultural insight, conceptual ingenuity and cutting-edge humor distinguish the third novel by a New York writer who never fails to engage and intrigue....While making no attempt at depth of characterization, Whitehead audaciously blurs the line between social realism and fabulist satire." Kirkus Reviews
"[B]rims with the author's spiky humor and intelligence....Not a whole lot happens...but Whitehead's ruminations on the power of names, the fatuity of corporate life, advertising, race relations, and American aspirations are almost pleasure enough. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"Whitehead...continues his shrewd and playful inquiry into the American soul in a fresh and provocative tale....Whitehead archly explicates the philosophy of excess and the poetics of ludicrousness, and he incisively assesses the power inherent in the act of naming." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Engaging and provocative....But ultimately, Apex falls short because its protagonist, engaging as he is, lacks heart." Los Angeles Times
"Whitehead is making a strong case for a new name of his own: that of the best of the new generation of American novelists....The central plot line is reminiscent of William Gaddis's epic-length parodies of modern America's absurdities, but Whitehead prefers a leaner, meaner brand of prose." Boston Globe
"In a world crowded with big, bossy novels insisting on taking us to the ends of the earth, Colson Whitehead offers a short, quiet invitation to bum around town." Daniel Handler, Newsday
In search of a new name for their town, the Winthrop town council decides to hire a nomenclature consultant best known for his crowning achievement, Apex, a multicultural bandage that has revolutionized the adhesive bandage industry, in a tour de force exploring the mysteries of identity, history, and marketing. Reprint.
The town of Winthrop has decided it needs a new name. The resident software millionaire wants to call it New Prospera; the mayor wants to return to the original choice of the founding black settlers; and the towns aristocracy sees no reason to change the name at all. What they need, they realize, is a nomenclature consultant. And, it turns out, the consultant needs them. But in a culture overwhelmed by marketing, the name is everything and our heros efforts may result in not just a new name for the town but a new and subtler truth about it as well.
About the Author
Colson Whitehead was born and raised in New York City. His first novel, The Intuitionist (1999) was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway. His next work, John Henry Days (2001), was a New York Times Editor's Choice, won the Young Lions Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle and the Pulitzer Prize. His most recent book, The Colossus of New York, was a New York Times Notable Book of a Year. Whitehead has also been the recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award and a MacArthur Grant. His writing has appeared in the The New York Times, The Village Voice, Salon, and Newsday. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Natasha and daughter Madeline.
Review A Day
"There are some funny riffs on advertising here...as well as some wry commentary on how we talk about race nowadays. And of course, anything Whitehead writes is worth reading for the brilliance and originality of his phrasing. But the reason Whitehead's third novel is so moving and worthwhile is that he perfectly nails the tragic/comic nature of our smoothly packaged, hyper-verbal, and strangely stupid times." Anna Godbersen, Esquire
(read the entire Esquire review