Apex Hides the Hurt Summary

Colson Whitehead

Apex Hides the Hurt

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Apex Hides the Hurt Summary

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Colson Whitehead’s novel Apex Hides the Hurt (2006) follows a “nomenclature consultant” as he visits a fictional town called Winthrop, and is persuaded by a number of heated citizens to help them rename the town. The protagonist is an unnamed African-American man who recently quit his job after losing a toe in a minor accident. The other characters include Mayor Regina Goode, Albie Winthrop, a descendant of the town namesake, and software mogul Lucky Aberdeen, all of who have their own ideas about what their town should be called.

As the book opens, the narrator is contacted by his former employer, a naming agency that has been asked by residents of the town of Winthrop to help them rename the town. Hired by the town, the narrator travels to Winthrop to meet with the town council and to learn about the town’s history, which he believes will help him to come up with a new name for the town. Though the narrator had become disillusioned with his work as a nomenclature consultant after an experience with one of the products he had named, he has a gift for naming; he decides to use his talents to help the people of Winthrop.

In Winthrop, the narrator meets the town council, which includes Mayor Regina Goode, software mogul Lucky Aberdeen, and long-time town descendant Albie Winthrop. Each of the characters has his or her idea about what Winthrop should be named. Lucky, who owns the burgeoning tech company Aberdeen Software, leads the charge to rename the town. He believes that the town should be called New Prospera, after the promising economic future his business has brought to the city.

Albie and Regina have historical connections to the town of Winthrop. Albie, whose ancestors are the namesakes of the town, obviously wants the name to remain the same – he sees the town’s history and his own family history as inextricably linked. However, after talking to Regina, the narrator learns more about the history of Winthrop. According to city records, Winthrop was actually founded by African American settlers, who named the town Freedom. A few years later, the Winthrop family arrived and used their wealth and racial standing to rename the town after them, thus erasing the history of the black founders. Regina Goode, who is African American as well, is a descendant of one of these original black founders. She encourages the narrator to choose the name Freedom, to reclaim the town’s erased black history.

Doing his own research into the town’s history, the narrator discovers that Regina wasn’t telling the whole truth about the black history of Winthrop. As it turns out, Regina’s ancestor Abraham Goode came up with the name Freedom to contrast the name suggested by one of the other black founders, William Field. Field had suggested the name Struggle but was out-voted by the other council members. Later, Abraham Goode became one of the few black men to vote alongside the Winthrops to get the town name changed, in order to curry favor with the powerful family and ensure his own economic and social well-being.

As the narrator becomes increasingly fascinated by the power of names and the weight they carry, he unearths his own story of disillusionment. He reveals that he left his job after injuring his toe and covering it with an Apex bandage, a product he named that matches the skin tone of the wearer to hide the wound. Unfortunately for the narrator, the product worked so well, he didn’t realize until it was too late that his toe was badly infected, and it had to be removed. Soon after, he left his work; he has only returned to the naming business to help the Winthrop town council.

Ultimately, the narrator decides to reclaim the town’s true history, selecting the name Struggle – a move which illuminates the battling historical narratives each councilmember is telling, as well as the narrator’s own struggle to come to terms with the power of a name.

Colson Whitehead is the author of a number of best-selling and award-winning novels, most recently The Underground Railroad. He has also written The Intuitionist, Sag Harbor, and is coming out with a novel called The Nickel Boys in 2019. He has received a Whiting Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and won a Pulitzer Prize, Booker Prize, and National Book Award for his fiction, among dozens of other honors. Born in New York City, he attended Trinity School and Harvard University.