Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead

Yikes, I'm falling behind! I'll make this a quickie review because it's not obligatory and I'm not sure I have much to say about it. 

I chose to read Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead for Black History Month. In Apex Hides the Hurt, a man who till recently worked naming products (a "nomenclature consultant") has been asked to do a job for his old employer. 

The town of Winthrop needs a new name. Winthrop is named after the wealthy family that took over the formerly all-black town and turned it into a manufacturing town where barbed wire was made. The remaining family member wants to leave the name alone. A man who made his millions in software wants to change it to New Prospera. And, the mayor wants to return to the original name of the town, Freedom, as it was founded by black settlers from whom she directly descends. Names, the hero thinks, are very important. His entire career has been centered around names.

The main character spends some time in Winthrop, getting to know the place and digging into its history with the help of a local librarian; and, he discovers that there is a hidden story in the original naming of the town. Meanwhile, you get to know the hero's history and why he no longer works, why he is so disillusioned with life, which has to do with a toe and a bandage. The narrator gradually explains how the bandage got its name and promotional tagline and why the bandage led to the problem with the toe. Which is pretty hysterical and also a very sly nudge to the way people observe skin color.

Recommended - Apex Hides the Hurt is satire and I am not a big fan of satire so I didn't fall madly in love with the book but it is immensely clever, almost too deliberately clever at times. The vocabulary of the author! I should have pulled out a notebook to record new words, to be honest. Apex Hides the Hurt very quietly explores racism through the town's history and the hero's experience. It's subtle in its exploration of racism and it was definitely a good choice for Black History Month. 

When I closed the book, I didn't like the ending but then I gave it some thought and decided I was wrong to dislike it. It was the right way to end the story because it was about putting the truth out there for all to see. 

One of the greatest ironies of the book is that it's all about the importance of names and yet the hero and narrator remains unnamed throughout the book. Actually, the more I think about Apex Hides the Hurt, the more I realize that I didn't love the execution (not being a fan of satire) but I liked what I learned from it enough to enjoy it more on reflection than I did during the reading. 

Apex Hides the Hurt is my first read by Colson Whitehead but I have a copy of The Underground Railroad and I'm looking forward to reading it. 

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