This book has the witches’ brew of successful ingredients: dystopian future, lexicon failure, mysterious disappearance, and corporate takeover. Particularly fascinating is the appeal to word-lovers: big, rich words. And to a part, THE WORD EXCHANGE delivers: there are a plethora of exotic words; the mystery is fascinating; and the future is scary. But ultimately, I believe the author over-seasoned this word soup.
Let me set it up for you:
Do you ever have a word hanging just outside the tip of your tongue? Imagine being able to tap your phone and having instant access to that word.
Do you like playing word games? Imagine a game that rewarded you with cash incentive for creating a catchy word with an interesting definition.
Next step: imagine merging the two. Suspend your belief, just a bit. Take most of the major dictionaries of the word and set them up in one warehouse, being accessed like Wikipedia. With money, influence, and time, the newly created words find themselves leaking into everyday usage. The scariest stuff sometimes sounds the most plausible.
Author Alena Graedon sets this up in a universe of possibility. The op-ed she uses at around 25% of the novel is a great stand-alone piece. Just after that, one of the characters writes a journal entry that can also be used as a love letter to words and language. Excellent stuff. But things get pushed a bit too far with the overabundance of fancy adverbs and adjectives, just to make it sound more intelligent. Then there are the info-dumps to re-emphasize what the reader has probably already figured out. Then—and this is what will make-or-break it for most folks—are the made-up words that appear in the text. It’s a cool technique, but will drive some purists bonkers.
So, where do we stand? The concept is so interesting, and I love the word play, that I’m going with four stars, even though the plot itself hovers around three. I say, get the book to enhance your vocabulary and work your mind while reading about a potentially scary future.
Thanks to Doubleday for providing me with a review copy of this book.
Check out this book and its other reviews on Amazon: The Word Exchange: A Novel