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Book Review: The Word Exchange

December 7, 2015

Read and reviewed this book ages ago, and I could have sworn I posted the review. But I found it lurking about in my drafts folder, so…

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
Doubleday, April 2014
(read on NetGalley)

A father’s mysterious disappearance. A world that looks somewhat like our own, with dystopian touches, of language slowly surrendering to isolation in the digital age, the dictionary going out of print. A vaguely menacing supercompany getting into the creation of language, turning it into some kind of commerce-game. And then language physically, biologically decaying in a disease called “word flu,” where people are losing the very thread of language itself.

This book scared me silly. Yes, some of the plot points and narrative twists were, in fact, ludicrous and absurd. There were several moments of characterization that were practically marked in neon: “Postmodern Plot Twist Goes Here!” Some twists were even lacking sense according to the novel’s own internal rules. Some characters and their choices were frustrating and made me want to yell at them for reasons.

As improbable as it was, this book definitely got to me and very much gave me the creeps. Even though I can’t see this “word flu” as remotely possible, and even though I rolled my eyes at some of the plot or character elements,  the idea of the decay of language, or a more complete surrender of books to the digital age, gets under my skin. Any mention of pandemic, even an implausible pandemic, gives me nightmares. This book gave me nightmares.

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