Whew – long, long, long and although the concept is terrific the execution is a bit too convoluted. I wanted to like this book – as a reading junkie and word lover with a great appreciation for dystopian fiction it sounded like it was right up my alley. Alas, I’m not sure why but it fell short of any mark.
The setting is a dystopian future where the use of a smart phone-like device called the Meme has hampered out ability to speak and then language itself is mangled and corrupted by technology and a greedy drive for money. Otherwise normal people who are addicted to their devices turn aphasic (non-verbal). And then comes a version of the Meme called the Nautilus which sticks to the user’s skin.
Via a very popular app called “Word Exchange, ” word definitions are sold (because people don’t read anymore – they don’t know the meanings of words) and as dependency on the Word Exchange grows, greedy entrepreneurs take over and buy up all the words in the dictionary and then make up their own. Finally the program is hacked and a highly contagious virus is spread through the device. Eventually users can end up permanently non-lingual and sick or even die.
Anana Johnson, one of two first person protagonists, is the daughter of a lexicographer, the editor of a dictionary which is working hard to put out a final edition. One day Doug goes missing and Anana spends the most of the book looking for him. It’s rather dangerous because she could fall victim to the virus at any time. The other first person is a young man who is in love with Anana (but she is in love with a man named Max).
You can tell when the characters have the virus because their speech is garbled and they say things like And because people really want to understand each other they buy the definitions.
Liesl Schillinger at the New York Times liked the book: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/04/books/review/the-word-exchange-by-alena-graedon.html?_r=0
Rebecca Onion at Slate was not so happy: