I really like Colson Whitehead's work. He has a knack for giving you a huge amount of backgroun d information about the subject matter in addition to the actual plot of the book.
For example, his first book was The Intuitionist
. I read that one a few years ago. I learned more about elevators and elevator history and theory than I really cared to know. His second novel was John Henry Days
. In addition to the legend of John Henry, I learned a bit about philately (the study of postage stamps). In this, third solo novel, I learned about the life and times of - a nomenclature consultant. Nomenclature consultants come up with the names of stuff. Anything. Cars, pharmaceuticals, companies. He talks about the pure genius of the "Band Aid", and about how any the best any competitor could ever hope for was second in line behind the popular Johnson & Johnson favorite. That, in fact, is the main character's claim to fame. He catapulted a sub-standard competitor squarely into second place when he came up with "Apex" as the new name of a bandage. The resulting tagline was "Apex hides the hurt."
At any rate, that's just background noise. The crux of the story hinges around the city of Winthrop. I'm honestly not even sure if they mention what state Winthrop sits in. Anyway, Winthrop needs a new name. There are three competing factions with three different names that they want the city to adopt. There are also but three members of the city council. The result is a stalemate. Our intrepid nomenclaturist is called in to break the tie, or come up with something new. He begrudingly accepts the challenge. The result is a meloncholy ride through the history of the city, and somewhat of a history of the nomenclaturist himself. (I don't think we ever actually learn his
name, which is odd in a book about naming things.)
Everything I've shared so far is pretty safe if you plan on reading the book, so no worries about me spoiling it for you. Let's just say that the name he decides on at the end is perhaps not so important. It's the journey that counts.
Maybe that's a parable of sorts. Quit focusing on the end result of the trip, and have a good time getting there. Stop and see the sights. Smell the roses. Sample the local food.
I'm getting off track. I give the book a solid B--
, which translates to "I've read better, but I still enjoyed the experience."
Know what I'm sayin'??