Sunday, June 23, 2013

Poetic License

ISBN-10: 1594205388
ISBN-13: 9781594205385
Published: Penguin Press HC, The, 06/18/2013
Pages: 400
Language: English
The "cerebral thriller" is inherently difficult to pull off. A thriller typically requires violence and at least a pinch of fear, both of which appeal to the reader's unthinking reptilian brain. The cerebral work typically appeals to the brainier part of our brains, but risks feeling cold and joyless. Marrying these too seemingly irreconcilable genres is the unstated ambition of Max Barry's fantastic new science fiction genre-hybrid Lexicon, a novel that manages to include car chases, Charlotte Bronte quotes, semiotics, information-age paranoia, and even a fair-sized dollop of romance. As author and critic Lev Grossman writes on the back of the book, Lexicon is "about as close as you can get to the perfect cerebral thriller: searingly smart, ridiculously funny, and fast as hell. Lexicon reads like Elmore Leonard high out of his mind on Snow Crash." I wanted to write that Lexicon reads like China Mieville on crank, but then I would have to explain that China Mieville reads like Philip K. Dick on crank, and we would get into a whole Russian Nesting Doll scenario. 

Personally, I don't enjoy book reviews/recommendations that serve as plot summaries, but suffice it to say Lexicon involves a class of people called "poets" that manipulate language in order to very literally control the general population. The action bounces back and forth in time and perspective constantly, gradually honing in on a horrific incident that shapes the lives of regular-guy Wil and troubled "poet" Emily Ruff. The book is full of themes and ideas, sometimes referenced directly by email exchanges, newspaper articles, and message board chats Barry inserts between chapters. Thankfully, however, the narrative is so relentlessly fast and the characters recognizably human that Lexicon never feels didactic or preachy. He has his points, he makes them, and everyone has fun. Who says intense pessimism can't be a blast?

No comments:

Post a Comment