Apex Hides the Hurt: A Novel

by Colson Whitehead

Paperback, 2007




Anchor, (2007).


This New York Times Notable Book from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Underground Railroad is a brisk, comic tour de force about identity, history, and the adhesive bandage industry. 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 town's 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 hero's efforts may result in not just a new name for the town but a new and subtler truth about it as well.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member rarewren
This novel was a very rewarding left turn for me. I’d been solemnly poring over a bunch of nonfiction and then pow! Colson Whitehead tells me a serious story.

It’s an extended parable about race relations, corporate culture, consumerism, and social change, conveyed by the adventures of a
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marketing genius with a stubbed toe. The protagonist is an expert namer (”nomenclature consultant” in the delicious corporate-speak of the book) who, many have observed, remains unnamed himself. He is dispatched to a small Midwestern town to settle its brand identity crisis. A bizarre and fabulous plot; bonus the digressive lingering on phonetics, the apex of such exercise being a rhapsody on the word "apex" itself. Double bonus the depiction of a public library in, er, transition (it’s being displaced by a crap chain clothing shop) and riffs on “Marian the Librarian.”

Exquisite snark:

"On the rare occasions that he entered libraries, he always felt assured of his virtue. If they figured out how to distill essence of library into a convenient delivery system—a piece of gum or a gelcap, for example—he would consume it eagerly, relieved to be finished with more taxing methods of virtue gratification." (92)

Random awesome punch:

"No, Albie’s wife hadn’t taken everything in the divorce. She had left him his inappropriate emotional reactions to small things." (79)

I can’t resist a one-two:

"Lily Peet-Esposito, a half-pint brunette from down South, whose true personality kicked in after three drinks, and who was a connoisseur of jokes describing the cultural misunderstandings that arose when religious leaders of different faiths unexpectedly found themselves on life rafts and desert islands." (173)

My introduction to Whitehead, on a tip from a very literate colleague. Now I’m eager to read "The Intuitionist," his debut novel about, um, elevator inspectors.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
This is my first exposure to Colson Whitehead, and I liked it.

A small town hires a "nomenclature consultant" to choose its future name. The local mayor favours the name chosen by the town's founding fathers who were liberated slaves: Freedom. The local aristocrat wants to keep the name his
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ancestors gave the town (their own, that is): Winthrop. And the high-tech entrepreneur wants something to attract people and investment: New Prospera. Enter the consultant, who studies the town's history and its people. He's brilliant, but suffering a bit of a setback recently.....

At turns funny and profound, this is a well-written, satirical look at history and human relationships, which seem to all come down to marketing and image. With the proper name, all is possible and right with the world. But, sometimes names "hide the hurt" with disastrous consequences.

A stroke of genius in that the nomenclature consultant remains un-named throughout the book!
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LibraryThing member mzonderm
I found this book oddly lacking in tension. Not all books have to have tension, but I got the feeling that this book was supposed to. The main character is supposed to decide between two factions in a small town that have different ideas about how or whether to rename the town. The tension between
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these two opposing parties should be at the heart of this book, but I never felt it.
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LibraryThing member ethereal_lad
Whitehead Brings the Snark


A nameless nomenclature consultant comes to the town of Winthrop, which is looking to change its name. Three prominent citizens have different ideas about what to call the town. The mayor, a descendant of the escaped slaves that founded the town, want to
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name it Freedom. Albie Winthrop, a descendant of the robber baron who bought an industry—barbed wire fence production—wants to keep the name Winthrop. And Lucky Aberdeen, a software guru who has revitalized the town’s economy, votes for New Prospera.

Whitehead’s protagonist, who has suffered a recent fall from grace, wanders through the town, feted and seduced by the three factions. On this framework, Whitehead examines contemporary culture, history, advertising, race relations, and the whole process of branding. The satire and snark is laid on thick, in Whitehead’s crisp sentences that sparkle like the driest of ginger ale. It’s part Dilbert, part Invisible Man. It is chockfull of quotable one-liners, yet it manages to be profound. All the shiny new names, rebranding, focus groups and target demographics can’t hide the wounds inflicted by history.
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LibraryThing member Sarahfine
A "nomenclature consultant" whose amputated toe has made him a recluse, is hired to rename a city. As he researches the town's past names, and injustices to the original ex-slave founders, he explores his surroundings and marinates over his injury. Not much happens, but it is occasionally very
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amusing. Also fascinating is the examination of the nomenclature profession...the hidden marketers who influence you unawares.
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LibraryThing member littlegeek
The latest by Whitehead was a bit of a disappointment for me. Sure, it still has the brilliant writing, the slightly weird but gets under your skin symbolism, the sardonic world-weary knowingness, the wft happened in US race relations perspective, the scathing humor and all the other Whiteheadisms
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I've grown to love. Maybe it was that I listened to it from an audible download and didn't really like the reader. It seemed a little small after John Henry Days.
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LibraryThing member JenneB
Not anywhere near as good as The Intuitionist, but still enjoyable. I like the names aspect.
LibraryThing member weird_O
What's in a name? That's at the core of Colson Whitehead's 2006 novel [Apex Hides the Hurt]. The plot is this: A name change has been suggested for a town. The proposal comes from a hometown tech entrepreneur, Lucky Aberdeen, who thinks the name Winthrop should be replaced with New Prospera. He
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needs the assent of one of the two others who, with him, make up the town council. One of the two is Regina Goode, a descendant of a co-founder of the town, which was called Freedom by the freed slaves who settled it. The other is Albert Winthrop, the last survivor of the Winthrop family, which located its barbed wire factory in the town (and contrived to change the town's name to Winthrop).

Is it a surprise that Regina favors a return to the name Freedom, that Albie likes the current name, and Lucky wants New Prospera?

The three seek professional advice from a nameless guy who names things. He's from a very special, very high stakes business, and he is Whitehead's protagonist.

He came up with the names and like any good parent he knocked them around to teach them life lessons. He bent them to see if they'd break, he dragged them behind cars by heavy metal chains, he exposed then to high temperatures for extended periods of time. Sometimes consonants broke off and left angry vowels on the laboratory tables. How else was he to know if they were ready for what the world had in store for them?
   Those were the good times...In the coffee room they threw names around like weekends tossing softballs. Clunker names fell with a thud on the ground...They brainstormed, bullshitted, performed assorted chicanery, and then sometimes they hit one out of the park. Sometimes they broke through to the other side and came up with something so spectacular and unexpected, so appropriate to the particular thing waiting, that the others could only stand in awe. You joined the hall of legends.

Once hired, The Name Guy [my name for the protagonist] heads to Winthrop, moseys about, chatting with denizens and visitors, and the novel settles into exposing everyone's backstories, including TNG's. As the naming work progresses, Whitehead doles out a lot to think about, not least of which is the story behind the novel's title. It is not a linear advance; TNG's attention, perception, recognition and comprehension, and finally understanding are't linear. Whitehead's presentation reflects the episodic nature of research and understanding.

Good book. Not perfect, but good. Thumbs up.
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LibraryThing member FlanneryAC
I should've gone back and read Cassi's review before I listened to this one. I would've said almost exactly the same thing. This is the first book I have listened to that did not translate well. I think I would've enjoyed it more had I been reading it.

80% of the time I was spacing out because
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there is nothing really happening. Here's the plot:"marketing man goes to town to rename it. he's there for some time. talks to some people. doesn't clean up his hotel room. a decision is made. the end."

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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
The town of Winthrop has hired a nomenclature expert. Its three-member ruling council can't decide whether to change its name, or what to change it to. The descendant of the town's original white founding father, Mr. Winthrop, likes the name just as it is. A nouveau rich software developer whose
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company is now driving the town's industry wants to change the name to New Prosperity. And the mayor, a descendant of the town's original black settlers (who were there before the Winthrops arrived), wants to change the name back to the original name given to the town by its early black settlers, Freedom. They have hired the nomenclature expert to study the issue, and to decide on the name.

The nomenclature expert (who is ironically unnamed) is our main point of view character. His prior nomenclature triumph was the development and naming of a multicultural band-aid that would match the user's skin color (or "hide" the hurt). We are in his mind most of the book, and there is a lot, and I mean a lot, of riffing going on there. Every other thought relates to potential products and potential names for them. It's meant to be a satire on advertising and consumerism, I gather, but the result is a book in which the characters are cardboard and the plot is minimal. There were a few funny and inventive parts, but overall I was very disappointed, and mostly skimmed this.

2 stars
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LibraryThing member stephkaye
Our narrator is a name whiz, a guy who names new products. He's been called on to name, or rename, a town. He must dig into the history of this town, which somehow ties in with his own struggles. Very interesting ideas about names, specifically as they relate to America, and race.
LibraryThing member bookworx
You will wait and wait for a torn town to be renamed, might as well have been named Vanilla Bean.
Fun and full of mentionable marketing metaphors.


Original language


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