Monday, 23 February 2009

Colson Whitehead - Apex Hides the Hurt (Alma 2009)

‘Apex Hides the Hurt’ is a bizarre tiny book with big ideas and scathing satirical solliloquies. The nameless main character is a ‘nomenclature consultant’- he names products. He finds their most innate aspirational qualities, and builds them into a name that can’t be beaten in the modern marketplace. We meet him after a sabbatical following an incident that knocked him from the top of the game into a self-imposed exile, involving a severed toe, bruised ego, and competitive vulturous colleagues. They pass him a job- go to the town of Winthrop- a tiny ex-free slave-built place and rename it to reflect all the current business-redevelopment and gentrification going on. There, he meets the bizarre town leaders: Lucky Aberdeen, responsible for bringing in all the new business opportunities and housing redevelopment; Regina Goode, mayor and descendant of the original free slaves who named the town ‘Freedom’; and Albie Winthrope, descendant of the man who gave the town industry and his name. Each has an agenda for the town’s name and each resorts to bizarre methods to convince the nomenclature consultant that their way of thinking is the best. Slowly we are treated to a slow-burning satire on the nature of marketing and branding and how it can change our perceptions of the most banal products. The book is severely tongue-in-cheek and represents a growing economy that is cynical at worst. It was parodied in ‘Survivor’ Chuck Palahniuk’s messiah-apocalypse book, the idea of patenting names before products are invented, and in a world where the business is in the look and feel and presentation of a product rather than its actual properties, this biting satire proves to be a whippersnapper of a dark biter. It’s funny and quick to breeze through, with purpose-built sentences that read like novels themselves, so carefully constructed they are with off-kilter slang and terminology, and a fascinating look at a bizarre culture of marketing-gone-mad.

No comments: