The protagonist of this novel is an anomaly: a nameless character who has found his niche in wordplay, a nomenclature consultant in a sound-bite world, one of the witty brain-stormers responsible for the current catch-phrases that define modern life, the succinct and memorable turns of phrase that influence advertising, media and our interpretation of reality.
Our hero has known his share of success, notably the Apex Bandage that takes on the color of any skin tone. But the fall from grace is as devastating as the heady peaks of success. The protagonist of Apex Hides the Hurt has fallen very far indeed, the victim of an undisclosed injury to his foot, unable to continue at his former place of employment.
Alone and jobless, he is afraid all that is left inside are “Frankenstein names, lumbering creatures stitched together from glottal stops and sibilants, angry unspellable misfits.” Perusing the want ads daily, he notices an ad in the paper requiring a specialist to rename a town. He applies and gets the job, somewhat heartened by this prospect.
The town in question is Winthrop, so named for the founding family; much changed by the passing decades, however, the paternal Winthrops are in obvious decline. Staying at the Winthrop Hotel, the specialist meets with the major players, listening to the arguments of the town fathers and the mayor as well as the input of the hotel bartender, reluctant to embrace easy solutions or to favor one side over another.
Setting his own terms for employment, the consultant requires the town to keep the name he offers for the period of one year, at which time they are free to try another. The social implications are not immediately apparent to the reader, but a subtle twist on the nature of the assignment makes for an interesting perspective.
The irony is that the wordmeister who made his living manipulating language should become such a ponderous character. In a book that starts out with a healthy dose of levity, the prose eventually gets bogged down in more weighty issues. As a result, the plot fails to deliver the appropriate satire or pithy observations promised at the beginning, dissolving into a more somber reflection on society and destiny.
Cleverness aside, an emphasis on the power of naming cannot go unnoticed, the detritus of past actions infecting the future. A jumble of personalities, perspective, politics and the urgency of the past, this town is beyond easy remedy, relationships altered by wealth, historical perspective and race.