Apex Hides the Hurt, by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whiteheaad had a brilliant debut with The Intuitionist, a novel about race relations in America that evoked real & positive comparisons to The invisible Man. He followed up with John Henry Days, which I didn’t like as much. With Apex Hides the Hurt, he covers some similar topics, telling a story about a nomenclature consultant who’s called in to settle a dispute among small town leaders about whether to rename a town. One of my favorite quotes: “He liked his epiphanies American: brief and illusory.”

I thought this was a good novel, and worth reading, but not as profound as The Intuitionist. Still pretty good. His use of language in a few places in the book just blew me away. Here’s a relatively long passage from part of the book that I particularly liked (it’s not really a spoiler, but you might want to skip it if you’re planning to read the book):

Any handy road atlas describes the long tradition of noun names, adjectival names, that yoke abstraction to dirt, where we can get our grimy hands on it. Confluence, KY, Friendship, LA, Superior, CO, Commerce, OK, Plush, OR. Hope, AR, naturally. Oftentimes these names can also be found on the sides of packages of laundry detergent of abrasive cleaners, so generous and thorough is the sweep of their connotation. Freedom, needless to add. Can’t forget Freedom.

Truth or Consequences, NM. Hard to knock such brave and laudable candor. Such ballsy defiance to the notion of salesmanship. Pity the poor board of tourism for Truth or Consequences, NM! Death Valley, too, won points for its plainspoken delivery. Seeming to say: It’s not like we didn’t warn you.

There were towns whose names were like thieves, attempting to pick the pocket of history, but instead became punch lines to jokes about the perils of juxtaposition. Milan, MN, Lebanon, OK, Dublin, IA, Brooklyn, OH. As if history came equipped with tiny snap-on hooks, was lightweight and portable and could be thrown up on available surfaces to accent the scheme of any room.

There was also a long tradition in naming places for great men, or at least men who believed in their greatness. He’d always had a soft spot for Amerigo Vespucci, who got lost while looking for the Indies and hit nomenclature’s Big Kahuna instead. Unless there was a gent named Europo he’d never heard about.

He couldn’t argue with America. It was one of those balloon names. It kept stretching as it filled up, getting bigger and bigger and thinner and thinner. What kind of gas it was, stretching the thing to its limits, who could say. Whatever we dreamed. And of course one day it would pop. But for now, it served its purpose. For now, it was holding together.

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