Friday, July 4, 2014

Book Report: Lexicon by Max Barry

Recently, a blogger who knows better than all of us named Ruth Graham posted an article that I’m not going to link to so she doesn’t get the hits about how adults should be ashamed to read Young Adult Novels, because of reasons. I would like to dedicate this post to her. You see, right before I read her “article” where she chastises people for reading in a society when reading is becoming increasingly rare, I read two novels I intended to discuss on Bad Shakespeare. One was a Young Adult novel. The other was a Sci-Fi Action thriller. I could’t decide which to do first, so I decided that instead of the dramatic novel that was set against overcoming an abusive past to allow yourself to be helped and loved, I’m going to write about the novel about poets that use magic words to kill. Yup. I’m going to review the novel for grown-ups first.

Back when I was doing my internship, one of the things I was constantly “corrected” on was my word usage. Apparently, I was using a lot of inappropriate language. Not language in the sense of words that we all have decided are vulgar and therefor unsuitable for ears attached to the heads of those 16 and under. No, I was corrected for using words that were “too big”. This got me thinking a lot about words. So when I read a review of a book that talked about how using words specifically, (even though it was a fiction book that talked about using words to kill) I was intrigued. 

Words are important. A lot of us don’t think about how important words are in our daily lives, but they’re very important. You’re reading words now. Not just any words, very specific words that are used to identify something or in this case, get an idea across. In this particular case, it’s that the novel Lexicon, by Max Barry, is an excellent book and one you should be reading right now.

Lexicon is the story of two individuals. Emily Ruff is a homeless con artist who is drafted into a secret school in Arlington, VA. This school teaches the importance of words, specifically words that can be used to manipulate or in some instances, kill. (They’re called Poets.) It’s also the story of Wil Parke, a seemingly innocent man who is caught up in this world of killer poets. Between the two of them they unravel a larger conspiracy involving the school and how we consume media. There are a ton of twists and turns, too many that while it’s difficult to write this review without discussing them, I really don’t want to ruin anything for you. Let’s just say it’s all as cool as it sounds.

One of the more interesting things that Max Barry does in this book that I really like is that he grounds the fantastical elements of the novel really easy. It’s difficult to write a novel about words while having to 1) make up some of them and have you believe they’re magic in some way and 2) describe the manipulative words in a way that you can read, process, and understand but at the same time believe they are manipulative, even though they are not manipulating you. Max Barry does this by interjecting each on of the bigger action sequences with a news story. So, while you’ve read a story about a character convincing another character to shoot several people then himself, you’re treated to a news story about how he was “depressed” and this was an “isolated incident.” Basically, it gets you thinking about how you are constantly manipulated by the words around you, even if you don’t know it. 

I do find this concept interesting, particularly as an English Major and someone who uses words the way I do. But interesting concepts don’t make for interesting work all the time, and that’s where Max Barry really shines. And where he shows off his talent as a writer. He gets you to believe in these words, to really understand why they take on certain meanings, and why they are dangerous in the wrong hands. He managed to produce a slow build while dividing the story into two parts. The other part is a lot faster, although I felt that it wasn’t as satisfying. I get the “we need your help at all costs” character, but if Mr. Parke were truly as important as they say, why keep so much from him at the get-go. He didn’t have to know everything, but at the same time it does lead to my least favorite thing in books and movies, “You’re really important, you think we’re the bad guys but we’re not, we just don’t have any time to explain. Now let me kill these four people.”

Again, twists, so I can’t give away too much.

However, this is a small nitpick and a small part of a book that manages to ratchet up the thrills with each section, and manages to surprise you even if you think you’ve got the whole thing figured out, like I did. (I picked up one major twist early on, unaware I was about to hit four or five more down the road.)

I highly recommend you pick up this book and give it a read. 

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