12 October 2009

Backlog Catchup #2: Apex Hides the Hurt

I have two questions for you. 1: Are you on twitter? 2: Are you following Colson Whitehead? Surprise sucker-punch question 3: Why the fuck not?

For a little while I was confused by his twitter. I only knew Colson Whitehead through one novel, The Intuitionist, a subtle, elegant, noirish allegory. Here is some of what I said about it as one of my top five books of 2007:

There's something elusive about this book, something like getting the story through smoke or fog. This is a book that's like remembering a dream, set in a sort-of-1950s sort-of-New-York, a little noir and a little magical, and also some racial themes if that's your sort of thing. My sort of thing is beautiful writing, captivating mystery, and confident story-telling and world-creating. Also, elevators were magical for about a week after I finished. This book is amazing.
So that is not a book that set me up to expect anything like this. Or this. Or the epic saga of this sort that's been going on. But holy god do I love it.

Part of what's helped me love it, though, other than Whitehead's deadpan commitment to sharing his tales of Segway racing with the tweeting masses, was reading another novel of his, Apex Hides the Hurt. I'd say it's another example of the power of twitter marketing, except that I got the book from the library, but I would never have sought it out were I not following Whitehead's twitter feed, where these Segway stories of precise and slippery irony are interspersed with actual real-life sharings. And I'm very glad I did.

In terms of not finding Whitehead's twitter playfulness surprising, Apex is a less somber novel than The Intuitionist - you could call it cultural satire, I suppose, and it is funny and clever. But I might not be able to live with myself if my entire review of a book is through the lense of the author's twitter style, so let's move on.

Apex Hides the Hurt is the story of a nomenclature consultant, former star of his field recently fallen into melancholic withdrawal following a mysterious hurt. He's called back into service by the council of a small town in need of his expertise. So yes, there's, though I sort of hate the phrase, social satire - Whitehead looks at aspirational strip-mall commerce with sharp perception, and his way of making me see things and ideas in new light saves us from the yuckiness that I usually associate with, yuck, social satire. But Apex is layered with real human pathos, which saves it from the dangerous superficiality of OMG, our culture is so commercialized! which is what this conceit would be from a weaker writer. Colson Whitehead is no weak writer, though, and his incisive satire is less pointed, not making fun, but more, Look, this is who we are, we should see ourselves. There is - thank god - an actual human story being told, about fear and work and love and all sorts of slightly frightening things. It is lovely, and full, and beautifully, brightly told.

It's amazing that he has time to write these beautiful books in between all the Segway races. Is there even an off-season?

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