Reviewed by Frankie
Language is incarnate. In Alena Gradeon’s debut novel, The Word Exchange, I have ascertained new meaning for language, and have grown a much deeper appreciation for the written word. I’ve suddenly realized the sanctity of the tomes strewn about my home. How are they sacred? They’re mere words on pages. But what if we no longer had words? What if, books no longer existed, and not only that, but language was lost as well? Imagine no longer having the capability of speaking intelligibly, or even writing. A world without language with which to communicate to your loved ones, your coworkers, society at large; no books or journals as a testament to our past and a reflection of our experiences.
In this novel, A0111, or its more common moniker: word flu, is a virus that has spread from technological devices to people, via the biomechanical interface that allows information to be shared between brain and computer. Society has succumbed to relying on their memes (think super smart phone) for nearly all of their information gathering and social interaction, as well as relegating simple every day tasks and memorization. When a program, The Word Exchange, is readily available to suggest words and meanings each time it “senses” its hosts need for such, the “Exchange” quickly becomes a staple for the average person. Users easily buy into the hype of a new product that just so happens to coincide with the demise of the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL) and the disappearance of its Chief Editor Douglas Samuel Johnson. As Doug’s daughter seeks her father’s whereabouts, she must untangle a web of confusion, discover her true allies, and follow her father’s clues, all during a time when even spoken words could be infectious in a truly fatal way.
This is the simplest summarization of the plot, but let me assure you that I absolutely fell head over heels for the characters. The story is told in the first person by two of the main characters. They both had wonderful tone, contrasting in each chapter yet still harmonizing as a coherent and beautifully written story. Graedon’s grasp of the English language is inspiring.
What really sets this novel apart, are the issues that are so relevant to our generation. Everywhere about you, you will see people, humans, staring zombie-like at their smart phones, numb and oblivious to the tangible world around them. Our waking lives are so flooded with media and distraction, that we rarely take the time to experience anything of substance, nor do we allow ourselves the opportunity to actually physically engage. To paraphrase from the book, we can no longer induce true “stirring of the soul”.
Aside from the lack of soul stirring experiences, we also have a reliance on technology that is detrimental to our brains’ health. Technology has given birth to many wonderful tools, however, at this rate we will soon atrophy our mental faculties, allowing “things” to take over our memory retention, and eventually….our thinking.
So pick up a book. Reach for something tangible. Commit words and their meanings to YOUR memory, in YOUR mind. Put the devices down and seek out a physical relationship with the world. Write letters to your Love. Keep a journal and reflect on your own development. Look away from the screen, and find that thing that stirs your soul.