Today I finally finished reading The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon. It is a novel full of interesting ideas and I wanted to like it and I wanted to finish it, but it was a struggle. The problem is that this novel didn’t find its rhythm until well over half way along.
The Word Exchange is set sometime in the future, a time when our current obsessive use of mobile devices has morphed to a more serious addiction – to a new device, called a Meme, enabling people to interact more viscerally with their devices. Some people, we learn, by that time even have “implants”. Now imagine a virus, a word-flu, which spreads both through devices and through speaking – but which can be treated by silence, by reading and by writing. Imagine too, a corporation involved in stealing words from our vocabulary for profit.
It took me weeks to get through this book, but I did not abandon ship. This novel is based around so many, rich ideas, but the author does not spin a compelling enough yarn to propel the reader through. And so I would stop for a few days then go back and read another chapter. Stop again. Pick it up again. Well, I’ll say it – it was boring. I had difficulty empathizing with the characters and believing their relationships, until some point well past the middle of the book, when the cadence picked up, and the story began to encapsulate, rather than describe the ideas which spawned the novel.
There is another thing that bugged me about The Word Exchange. One of the word-flu symptoms is aphasia, and the author insists on reproducing that aphasia, over and over again. She wants us to read sentences like,
This morning, chivvist kind of sick, I laid my take to Jericho to see Bill.
I think the author was trying to be clever, but the cleverness wore off quickly and I found reading chapters like this to be merely irritating. Her challenge, once introducing the idea of people experiencing speech disorders, is to write about it without indulging in it.
In short, The Word Exchange was rich enough to get me through it, but just. Disappointing.