The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
No spoilers! Definitely colorful language abound! I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I was not expecting this. The Word Exchange has challenged everything I know about what defines a good book, beaten the absolute shit out of my standards, and spit them back out at me. I stand before you a little befuddled and completely in awe of Graedon's ability to redefine something about myself I once thought of as unyielding. There are few books that I can confidently coin as an experience, as readers we are gifted these books when we least expect it, but are most in need. The writing style is arduous but it's so consistent and entwined with a bigger implication, a cautionary tale on our relationship with and ever growing disparity in our ability to communicate. Alena Graedon's debut novel is a vivid reflection in, with and for language, an interactive looking glass that will boldly reveal the truth if you have the courage to peer through it.
"I am not yet so lost in lexicography as to forget that words are the daughters of the earth, and that things are the sons of heaven."
- Samuel Johnson, preface to A Dictionary of the English Language
Anana lives in a parallel New York set in the not-so-distant future, grappling with a broken heart and a despondency found in most mid-twenty-somethings wandering throughout life. She works with her father, Doug Johnson, the Chief Editor of the North American Dictionary of the English Language, and has come of age in a world filled with Memes. Tricky little machines, life saving, life altering, intuitive, intrusive, all encompassing devices that facilitate every aspect of daily life.
The word "meme," coined by British Richard Dawkins in 1976, means an idea, pattern of behavior, practice, or style that spreads quickly from person to person within a given cultural context.
The Word Exchange is comprised of four unique elements, the journals of Bartleby and Anana, both of whom are recanting the same story from their own perspective. The third are her footnotes which at first are frustrating on the Kindle but are very useful and offer an interesting dynamic. The fourth is an op-ed piece for the Times, which was the turning point for me. To be honest, this was extremely difficult to get through in the beginning. It is drenched with unusual vocabulary, mundane details, and so many jagged puzzle pieces there isn't much to grasp onto. I counted the words I had to look up in the first quarter of the book, my count is standing firm at 27 words which in itself is very polarizing.
I knew Graedon was hinting at a bigger picture, but how are you supposed to emotionally connect to a book if the words don't hold any meaning to you, personally?
Hold on... I think...
Did I just get schooled by a dystopian novel?
That's some next level ish, son.
After that the vernacular becomes much more relatable while still maintaing it's integrity. The world around Anana and Bart starts to spiral into chaos, confronted with a corporate conspiracy and an underground resistance, the word flu pandemic explodes on the public while she investigates the disappearance of her father. He's left her a series of clues and Anana must continue her search for answers while the lives of everyone she knows hang in the balance.
I adore these dynamic and flawed characters, this bizarre parallel world where machines can communicate and anticipate our wants and needs frightened me more than I would have thought, and I tip my hat to Alena Graedon for delivering this much needed lesson in such a haunting and poignant way.
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