Book Review: Lexicon – Max Barry

Max Barry combined Poets and secret agents in ‘Lexicon.’  Words can persuade us, lead us in the direction people want us to go.  All a Poet has to do is ask you a series of five questions.  The answers will let them know what words and sounds will bend you to their will.  Ancient stories about the Tower of Babel hold more truth than we give them credit for.  Wil Jamieson is at the center of a search for a word, the Bare Word.  He doesn’t know it but when Elliot finds him in a bathroom, sticks a needle in his eye, and starts asking the five questions he realizes his life is changed.  From here people get killed, Wil is kidnapped by Elliot, and he starts to learn about a life he doesn’t remember he had in Broken Hill, Australia.  He is ‘The Outlier,’ it doesn’t mean anything to him, but it means a lot to these people.

Words are fascinating.  There is a power of persuasion in them, maybe not quite as strong as Barry makes it out to be, but if you study marketing and psychology there is credence to being able to make people susceptible to persuasion.  It can be as simple as the color of the plate you serve food on, the temperature set in a casino to keep you awake and alert, the lack of windows in a casino to discourage the notice of passing time.  These examples are not related to word choice but do relate to the science of suggestion.  Barry takes this real concept and increases the risk and reward potentials with ‘Lexicon’

Emily Ruff is a teenage junkie living on the streets in California.  Her game is Three Card Monte and she is very successful, well, successful enough that she can eat and get a fix.  One day a gentlemen in a cheap suit comes to play.  He’s a mark, she knows if she doesn’t let him win he’ll continue to play and she’ll have a good night.  Just as he is ready to pick she chooses to let him win at the last moment.  She can’t figure out why, but she’s lost him.  You let a guy like that win and they have no interest in playing.  This leads Emily down a path to be recruited for a very special school, one with no name, that teaches her to utilize her natural skill at persuasion.

The school is different from any you have ever seen.  It is very strict.  Boxers fists are considered lethal weapons because of the damage they can do.  Just imagine if your words had the same power.

Barry’s thriller is good.  I love the concept.  The anachronic story is told from multiple perspectives at different time frames.  The pace becomes frenetic towards the end – especially since you have key pieces of information the characters don’t.

Caring about people, things, or ideas is a danger to Poets.  The more someone knows about you the better they can control you.  After all, it only takes five questions to categorize the average person.  Poets guard against affiliations, love, want, and need eternally protecting themselves from compromise.  So, what happens if you break the rules?  This aspect of the story I found compelling, but it also opened the door to handling relationships/lack of relationships and sex in a very base way.  If I believed Barry meant for it to come off crass I think I might respect the way he handled it better even if I did not like it.  In this book, women seem to be categorized as an “Eve,” women who tempt men into compromising situations because of their own wanton desire.  Both Bronte and Wolf exhibit these behaviors and they are the only women in the book with real character developement.  It wasn’t flattering, and interesting that men were seen to be more controlled/moral. From this aspect alone, I would have thought ‘Lexicon’ was written at an earlier time.  It’s an outdated notion.  It’s not a huge part of the book but is important to the story

I listened to Heather Corrigan and Zach Appleman’s narration.  They did a good job.  Appleman, specifically, did a fantastic job with Wil’s Australian accent and the character’s personality change.

The book is interesting and for the most part enjoyable.  I think many people will like it despite the concern I mentioned above.  There are a lot of concepts that make it worth reading


About Steph

As C. S. Lewis said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” I am an indiscriminate reader. I can find a way to enjoy almost all books. I find they are like people – you can find something endearing in almost every one of them. I love to write reviews. I hope you enjoy them and find them useful. View all posts by Steph

One response to “Book Review: Lexicon – Max Barry

  • DJ (@MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape)

    I think I vaguely remember seeing this cover a couple year ago? Not sure. But I think I may want to check this one out, because of that concept of using words as power. Rather curious why Elliot sticks a needle is Will’s eye? 😉 <– thats not a wink face but a missing eye face

    Liked by 1 person

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