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Colson Whitehead is the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Underground Railroad. His other works include The Noble Hustle, Zone One, Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and one collection of essays, The Colossus of New York. A National Book Award winner and a recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, he lives in New York City.
What could be more ironic than a story about a nomenclature consultant ("I name things") whose own name is never revealed? That is the case in Whitehead's (The Intuitionist) latest, in which an appellation specialist (he is responsible for Apex, after all, the adhesive bandage that matches a person's skin tone) is called in to help the folks of Winthrop decide what to call their town. After stepping down from a lucrative job at an advertising firm after "his misfortune," he is asked to look into the Winthrop situation. In a fairly brief work, we learn quite a bit about our hero (if such can be used to describe him) and the Winthrop citizenry: the black woman mayor whose ancestors founded the town; Albie Winthrop, a white man whose own ancestor gave it its name; and Lucky Aberdeen, a computer company honcho who thinks the name New Prospera would better suit his plans for the future. Our narrator is also black, but where do his loyalties (and name preferences) lie? Did we mention the limp? In spare and evocative prose, Whitehead does Shakespeare one better: What's in a name, and how does our identity relate to our own sense of who we are? For serious fiction collections in academic and public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/05.]-Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Following the novels The Intuitionist (1998) and John Henry Days (2001), and the nonfiction The Colossus of New York (2004), a paean to New York City, Whitehead disappoints in this intriguingly conceived but static tale of a small town with an identity crisis. A conspicuously unnamed African-American "nomenclature consultant" has had big success in branding Apex bandages, which come in custom shades to match any skin tone. The "hurt" of the Apex tag line is deviously resonant, poetically invoking banal scrapes and deep-seated, historical injustice; both types of wounds are festering in the town of Winthrop, which looks like a midwestern anytown but was founded by ex-slaves migrating during Reconstruction. Winthrop's town council, locked in a dispute over the town's name, have called in the protagonist to decide. Of the three council members, Mayor Regina Goode, who is black and a descendant of the town's founders, wants to revert to the town's original name, Freedom. "Lucky" Aberdine, a white local boy turned software magnate, favors the professionally crafted New Prospera; and no-visible-means-of-support "Uncle Albie" Winthrop (also white) sees no sense in changing the town's long-standing name-which, of course, happens to be his own. Quirky what's-in-a-name?-style pontificating follows, and it often feels as if Whitehead is just thinking out loud as the nomenclature consultant weighs the arguments, meets the citizens and worries over the mysterious "misfortune" that has recently shaken his faith in his work (and even taken one of his toes). The Apex backstory spins out in a slow, retrospective treatment that competes with the town's travails. The bickering runs its course listlessly, and a last-minute discovery provides a convenient, bittersweet resolution. Whitehead's third novel attempts to confront a very large problem: How can a society progress while keeping a real sense of history-when a language for that history doesn't exist and progress itself seems bankrupt? But he doesn't give the problem enough room enough to develop, and none of his characters is rich enough to give it weight. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
"Wickedly funny. . . . Whitehead is making a strong case for a new name of his own: that of the best of the new generation of American novelists." --The Boston Globe "A brilliant, witty, and subtle novel, written in a most engaging style, with tremendous aptness of language and command of plot." --The New York Review of Books "Terrific. . . . Inspired. . . . Engaging, exuding energy. . . . Will have you nodding in wonder." --The Miami Herald "Dazzling. . . . Gorgeous, expertly crafted sentences. . . . An eloquent novel about racial identity in America." --Newsweek "Brilliant. . . . Exhilarating. . . . What keeps you reading this critique of language is its language, and our perverse delight in the ingenious abuse of words." --The New York Times