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Apex Hides the Hurt: A Novel (Hardcover)
by Colson Whitehead (Author)
  3.8 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews (16 customer reviews)  

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Editorial Reviews
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.

From The New Yorker
The nameless narrator of Whitehead's trenchantly funny and moral third novel is a melancholic "nomenclature consultant," who devises names for such products as Apex, a bandage sold in an array of skin tones. Flashbacks from his professional heyday are spliced into present-day scenes that show him trapped in the small town of Winthrop, deciding whether its name should be changed to Freedom (the name given it by liberated ex-slaves) or New Prospera (the brainchild of a software tycoon). Whitehead deftly cloaks his cynical take on race and consumer culture in his narrator's earnest philosophizing. He and the narrator are obsessed with the power of language both to deceive, as in the satirically observed evasions of marketing-speak, and to soothe: "Shuttle bus shuttle bus sounded like leaves whispering to each other in your textbook primordial glen.... He was feeling better already."
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker

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Product Details
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (March 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038550795X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385507950
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Sales Rank: #193,692 in Books (See Bestsellers in Books)
    (Publishers and authors: Improve Your Sales)
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Customer Reviews
16 Reviews
5 star: 31%  (5)
4 star: 37%  (6)
3 star: 12%  (2)
2 star: 12%  (2)
1 star: 6%  (1)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful:
4.0 out of 5 stars "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, April 6, 2006
By Leonard Fleisig "Len" (Washington, D.C.) - See all my reviews
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".

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
4.0 out of 5 stars He Who Must Not Be Named, June 14, 2007
By A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)      
I am a huge fan of Whitehead's first novel (The Intuitionist) and found his second (John Henry Days) flawed but well worth reading. This brief third work of fiction shares the themes of identity of the first book and the framework of the second. As in "John Henry Days", the story follows a polished, semi-hip, professional black New Yorker as he ventures to the hinterlands (here a small Midwesternish town) for a work assignment. It seems he's a specialist in naming products who has been hired to help the town figure out what its new name (if any) will be. As in "The Intuitionist", the plot serves as a canvas for Whitehead to ruminate on race, history, and identity in America.

However, the story is a little elusive throughout and combined with a the slow pacing, it often feels like Whitehead is just kind of noodling or riffing on his scenes and themes. Delivered in his distinctive prose, with plenty of humor, the story unfolds as a kind of allegory or fable. We learn that the protagonist -- who rather pointedly remains nameless -- used a bandaid to "hide the hurt" of a badly stubbed toe, only to have the wound fester and become badly infected. This mirrors the situation of the town, whose name changed from Freedom (per its founding by former slaves) to Winthrop (per the barbed-wire magnate whose invention brought prosperity to the place), and now, possibly, New Prospera (per the dot com which might revitalize the town) -- all of which mask another, darker, lost name. And ultimately, like the infected toe which must be amputated, the troublesome old name can't stay hidden forever. On yet another level, it's clear that the consultant's smooth exterior and bitter running commentary is a bandaid for his insecure, emotionally closed interior.

Satirizing advertising and consumer culture is more or less like shooting fish in a barrel, and while Whitehead does it well, that's fairly secondary to his central concerns of race, history, and identity. The story wraps up in a rather abrupt, anticlimactic manner -- but that's presumably the point. Perhaps somewhat slight and somewhat obvious, but well worth reading nonetheless.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
2.0 out of 5 stars an interesting idea, stretched too thin, May 20, 2006
By A. C. Walter "awalter" (Lynnwood, WA USA) - See all my reviews
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.

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Most Recent Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly original work
Apex did for me what a good work of art should do: present an original idea in a whole new light. I enjoyed the author's theory that words don't always explain or shed light; they... Read more
Published 9 months ago by An Old Bookworm

5.0 out of 5 stars Whitehead's Best Novel Since "The Intuitionist"
Colson Whitehead's "Apex Hides the Hurt: A Novel" is a slender, often witty, fictitious look at marketing and the nature of identity as seen primarily from an Afro-American... Read more
Published 13 months ago by John Kwok

5.0 out of 5 stars You Can Bandage But You Can't Hide
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... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Larry Dilg

2.0 out of 5 stars Self Centered and Disappointing
I read Apex Hides the Hurt after hearing part of an interview with the author on NPR. Perhaps if I'd heard the entire interview I would have known better. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Discriminating Reader

5.0 out of 5 stars A quick, witty novel that is interesting and thought provoking
What's in a name? Shakespeare told us that a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. But what if the rose was called something horrible like "rendered pork fat weed? Read more
Published 22 months ago by

4.0 out of 5 stars In the name of the X
In "Apex Hides the Hurt," Colson Whitehead plays around with essentially the same setup he used in his intriguing "John Henry Days. Read more
Published 22 months ago by lb136

5.0 out of 5 stars Another summit, er, apex
This extremely funny, heady novel is right on target. Its exhilarating wordplay and brilliant satirical insights will stir even the most hebetudinous somnambulate. Read more
Published 22 months ago by R. Gaither

5.0 out of 5 stars Apex Inquires with wit and humor
Man, I loved this book. It hit me at just the right time. It's a witty inquiry into identity, alienation, (body) image, race, the stagnation of privilege, the curse of one's gifts... Read more
Published 22 months ago by J. Draper

4.0 out of 5 stars Freedom and Struggle
What's a nomenclature consultant? Whitehead's latest focuses on an un-named character hired to re-name a town called Winthrop. Read more
Published 22 months ago by B. L. Medford

3.0 out of 5 stars What Shall We Call Ourselves?
"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. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Phyllis Rhodes

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