three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
22-May-June-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-ApexHidestheHurtIn the world of product branding, an unnamed and implicitly African American "nomenclature consultant" has done quite well for himself. After branding the wildly successful "Apex Hides the Hurt" bandages, meant for multicultural skin tones, he takes on the naming ("branding") of a middle-American town. With only nine toes (the result of a mysterious accident), he arrives in Winthrop (previously Freedom), founded by former slaves during Reconstruction. But the town council—comprised of both whites and blacks, a descendant of slaves, and a software magnate—butt heads over the proposed names as the legacy of their town. Its identity, history, and true beginnings come into question.
Doubleday. 211 pages. $22.95. ISBN: 038550795X

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"It is this rather absurd premise that Apex Hides the Hurt offers for our perusal, and delectation; and through it Whitehead is making a strong case for a new name of his own: that of the best of the new generation of American novelists." Saul Austerlitz

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Through such mundane subjects like bandages, Whitehead’s novel negotiates the thorny issues of identity politics, cultural sensitivity, and corporate values. … Apex Hides the Hurt is a playful, profane, and cautionary tale about the dangers of valuing signs over substance, and its warning is timely." Vincent O’Keefe

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"With his ability to infuse his fiction with a combination of technical virtuosity and moral insight, Whitehead continues to prove that he is an heir to [Ralph] Ellison’s mantle. … Apex Hides the Hurt is not Whitehead’s best work, but anyone interested in contemporary American literature should pick it up, for it shows signs of a burgeoning talent that will continue to amaze us." Ariel Gonzalez

Hartford Courant 3 of 5 Stars
"It is part allegory, part meditation on race and identity, and part satirical look at the America’s obsession with marketing. And while the author proves more adept at raising provocative questions than fully answering them, those questions nevertheless are well worth pondering." Carole Goldberg

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The material here is rich and dense—so much so that it could easily sink under its own weight, were it to become too preachy or self-consciously clever. … In the end, Apex Hides the Hurt is a satire that’s less funny than discomforting, which puts it in the tradition of other narratives about black states of being that border on absurdist—Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Cecil Brown’s The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger." Erin Aubry Kaplan

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"There are moments of real clarity with regard to the facile/devastating nature of names, the role of advertising in the coalescence of this country and the notion of branding as a social experiment run amok, but too often they have to compete with the overweening feeling that Whitehead has Something to Say." Michelle Orange

Critical Summary

In Colson Whitehead’s satirical look at American identity politics, racial identity, and corporate values, every sentence shimmers. Known as a "writer’s writer" for his acclaimed novels, John Henry Days and The Intuitionist, and his essay collection, The Colossus of New York ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2004), Whitehead again shows off his literary and intellectual vigor. In the line of Ralph Ellison, he brilliantly chronicles the exploits of a prosperous black man living in society’s shadows. Critics agree, however, that Apex is not his best. Though provocative and clever, it sags under the weight of Big Ideas; its universal mocking tone loses appeal; and the antihero lacks some heart. Despite some flaws, readers will be sure to ponder the novel’s provocative questions.

Cited by the Critics

The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger | Cecil Brown (1969): A comic satire, Life and Loves tells the story of African American expatriates in Europe. In particular, George Washington (one of his many names) has a variety of affairs with women from all walks of life.