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Apex Hides The Hurt (2006)

Apex Hides the Hurt (2006)
3.42 of 5 Votes: 5
038550795X (ISBN13: 9780385507950)
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Apex Hides The Hurt (2006)
Apex Hides The Hurt (2006)

About book: This review may have very mild spoilers, so I think it's safe in that regard without any alerts, at least for anyone who reads other reviews of this book.The best place for me to start this review is with the novel’s location of Winthrop, which is a stand-in for America, and for which Apex is it’s symbol. In a way, the title really is a good summation of the meaning of this novel - Apex Hides the Hurt, or the significant pain, of part of the African American experience. Apex, the high point of America’s promise of opportunity, wealth and freedom, casts a dark smothering shadow over its painful failures and false promises to its citizens, especially its African American citizens. The town of Winthrop is in the tumultuous process of deciding what to name themselves. Should they go back to their history and call the town Freedom, founded by new freed men shortly after the civil war? Should they stick with the patrician and tradition-loaded name of so called proper white America - Winthrop? Or should they adopt a new marketing idea to sell the image of the town, to mostly wealthier people, by naming it New Prospera? This conflict itself is symbolic of the long history of African American literature’s wrestling with this complex topic of Naming and Identification of themselves, which I was luckily clued into at my half-way point of immanent novel-abandonment by GR Walter’s review (see link below). (I’m not familiar with much African American literature - I definitely have some books on my to-read list, but I’ve not read them yet.)Whitehead’s focus is on the unnamed nomenclature consultant (usually identified as “he" and symbolic of him not wanting to be labeled), and his character’s personality is purposely illuminated and contrasted via other characters. He is described as “not a very curious man”, isolated, disengaged, depressed, uncaring, aloof, neglectful, anonymous, a company man yet not quite a fully integrated team member, and perhaps a traitor and a slob. In a way, he has hit rock bottom, the polar opposite end of the Apex. In many other ways, he is completely in the middle, betwixt and between...Why is he like this? It’s psychological and based on his perceived identity, what he believes himself to be and what others perhaps believe him to be. His personality and psychology are also really symbolized by the title, someone who is hiding from himself, his colleagues, his neighbors and even love interests (always temporary), due to his psychic pain of not knowing who or how to be. He resents being labeled and “identified” by the color of his skin or current stereotypes and partially buying into those identifiers, but he also beats himself up, unconsciously, for not choosing his own identity, or perhaps one identity. He is bedeviled. And he is alienated. He is perhaps in some psychological denial of all these issues, and hiding from the underlying vulnerability that would be felt if he explored them. Compounding all this is that he has mixed feelings about the normal signs and symbols of success, those of wealth and a white collar job. To some degree he feels like a sell-out working for a company that sells lies and deceives people by the skilled use of Naming: “...deception was their stock in trade, and the whole world’s favorite warm teat...” With the right or wrong name a person or product can really be sold, or pigeon-holed and limited, due to the innate and traditional expectations of the Name. That is, what is the significance, and what are the consequences, of a particular name or label? Whitehead explores this issue throughout the novel and briefly spells out the historical progression: as slave, freed man and woman, Negro, Afro American, African American, Black. Whitehead I think is getting at not only the external creation of limitations through naming and stereotypes, but also the idea of identifying with those limitations and actively playing a part in self-limitation, when buying into a pre-packaged stereotype defined by society. This idea can be applied to everyone to some extent, but the author is specifically dealing with a common African American experience. Is it universal in that population? Not to the same degree throughout, at least, and that’s part of the author’s point and the main character’s predicament. How is it that many others don’t seem to feel his pain or feel the same pain as he does? How is it that the black housekeeper/hotel maid is chastising this guy for being a slob, ignoring protocol and generally being a nuisance to her, while he actually hides from her? Why does the black bartender, who works 363 days per year, immediately distrust this corporate, fairly wealthy, intelligent guy and consider him a kind of traitor? How did the original town fathers make certain choices, and why is the female black mayor making certain other choices? The main character in a way can’t decide for himself where he stands on the issues, all he can do is stay on the outskirts and use his skills to label products and make a very good living. And perhaps part of the point is that this character is even seen as a traitor or outsider by what is ostensibly his own community. Hence, the idea of any label always being a stereotype, never fully fitting or true to all the members of that label. There is not one community, but perhaps there is pressure to behave and think as if one universal community exists.I think the point is also made that choices can be made guilt-free, but the main character seems incapable of this currently, as he feels the pull and pain of all arguments, or simply feels the guilt of seemingly not taking any stand. He’s not currently capable of taking the stands that pretty much all the other main characters have taken. They all have an opinion about the town name, and state it, but the main character would prefer to be left alone in that regard; however, he’s being paid to make a decision, so decide he must. But still, the apparent pressure and guilt of how best to label and identify haunts him, and at least symbolically keeps him stubbing that toe over and over, as if a reminder to either take a stand, or let it go; or risk not being healthy and whole. These options are also related to Whitehead’s mention of ways of being: Optimistic/Idealistic, Realistic/Skeptical, or Pragmatic/Opportunistic. Perhaps, this too, has been the struggle of the community - which approach and philosophy might best advance toward progress, and might certain approaches work better in different periods of life or history? Which is authentic? Can an individual embrace all three? Without giving away anything, I will say the main character is not totally flat, there is some progression one way or another. I could give away some of the more fun “bits”, allusions and word play in the novel, or even the ending, but honestly, I was not a fan of the prose, so perhaps these small, at times obvious, bits may provide some entertainment value to others. He’s considered a good writer, and I bought The Intuitionist when it came out in paperback, but I’ve never read it; however, I don’t think the writing style added much to this story, other than perhaps to enhance the main character’s melancholy and disinterest in most of life, though there were one or two metaphors that have some emotional impact. Also, the meat of this novel is in the second half, so if you haven’t read it and any of this sounds interesting to you, be prepared to wait about 100 pages or so before real meaning pointedly begins to build. If you haven’t read the book, hopefully this review may help a bit toward knowing where the author is going. Here is Walter’s review that helped me resume reading with a point of reference: Personally, I enjoyed the ideas presented in the second half of the novel, and I enjoyed putting them together afterward, so perhaps that’s a mark of a good writer, in that regard I’d give the novel four stars. However, for entertainment and prose purposes, I’d say the reading experience for me was more like two stars - “ok.” Hence my 3 star rating - I liked the book. And, because of it, I’m more likely to read related novels sooner.

"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.
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If you want to make fun of some concept, say, the fact that Americans are so obsessed with new things and natural things, would you write a book about it? At least one author did, and the end result was this novel.Apex Hides the Hurt is about an unnamed nomenclature consultant, who as we learn as the novel progresses, is hired by a town because the town wanted to change its name. There are three possibilities: New Prospera, which is the suggestion by one of the business magnates in the town; Freedom, which is the original name of the town before it was changed into Winthrop; and Winthrop, which is the third suggestion, namely, to not change the name of the town at all.The character that the novel is following is rather amusing and bizarre: he has no name, and yet he has the amazing quirk of naming things appropriately for business. Through interesting flashbacks, we learn that he didn't even think that being a nomenclature consultant was going to be his real job. He took the exam as a joke, and yet he passed. He got hired. He developed good names for products. One such product was "Apex", which was apparently a culturally-sensitive bandage, which comes in different colors to match one's skin tone. Its catch phrase turned out to be the novel's title.Another quirk that this character has is his stubbed toe. He seems to be hurting his toe every time, he describes it has having a magnet for the nearest curb, chair, door, whatever you name it, his toe will hit it. He hit it too much to the point that it became infected, and it had to be amputated because of the necrosis, which he neglected by simply bandaging it with Apex.Anyway, he gets hired by this town, where he temporarily settles into, while consulting for the town's new name. He interviews and gets interviewed by people, and attends the town's functions. At the end of his stay, he figures out a name.Yes, this novel was a funny read. But I believe it also had a deeper meaning to it. It basically pokes fun at how consumers are so hyped up by names: they would buy anything that is branded as new or natural. This novel tried to portray that mentality, rather successively in my opinion.I also liked the fact that this novel engaged my head. It didn't give everything away. Instead, it required the reader to piece together things about the story, mentally building the story in the reader's head. The author didn't write this novel intending a dumb audience.Somehow, I cannot think of a bad thing about this novel. Perhaps the only thing that prevents me from giving this novel a full 5 stars is the fact that although the topic is interesting, it wasn't interesting enough for me. In short, I could care less. And yet, it was interesting enough that I wasn't bored when I read it. But I suppose this is one of those types in which I will store it in my head, and perhaps never retrieve it again in the future, not because I didn't like it, but because I just find other topics to be more interesting and moving.
I really enjoyed this book. At first glance, the language is easy, the sentences short and Whitehead's voice just flows over you. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that every sentence not only advances the plot, but also serves as an example of the kind of advertising slogans that the main character deals in on a daily basis. The main character, a "nomenclature consultant" spends his days creating the perfect name for products, in order to help them sell. After an accident leaves him with 9 toes, a limp, an intense case of nomenclature block and a self-enforced hermitage, his nomenclature firm offers him an interesting assignment. The small midwest town of Winthrop is in the midst of a battle to rename the city to New Prospera, in order to attract new busineses. The main character has to wade through historical and racial implications and multiple factions with varying opinions in order to complete his assignment.Each sentence is like a chocolate truffle. Candy coated on the outside, shiny and pretty, you eyes glide over it easily and onto the next. However, if you take the time to bite into it, the delicious soft center melts and lingers, allowing you to savor the intense flavor created by a master chef. It took me almost two weeks to read this very short book, mostly becuase I would often read the same paragraph over and over, marveling at the rhythym, the double and triple entendres, the coy misdirections and the carefuly crafted transitions.
The night after I finished this book, I dreamed: shuttlebus, shuttlebus, shuttlebus.For those who haven't yet read it, and thus won't catch that reference, let me say:Colson Whitehead has written a profound book about superficiality. It's at once about the modern problem of the branding of America and the abiding questions (with which philosophers have wrestled for centuries) about the relationship of language to reality. With regard to the latter, it probes the potentially corrosive effects of naming and (in my view, although even Whitehead might not have intended this bit) of our tendency to turn processes into things, perceiving people and places as nouns rather than verbs.What's especially beautiful about the book is that all of this is done within an engaging and enjoyable narrative. I could easily imagine assigning it to college students, letting them have fun with the story, and then pressing them to discover how much deeper it goes.
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