The BF was telling me the other day about a new phenomenon amongst younger people: digital dementia. The theory is that younger generations are so used to splitting their attention between multiple things, Facebooking while texting, Instagramming while Tumbling and Tweeting, et cetera, that they’re unable to focus and remember simple things, like phone numbers. It’s a real thing.
The premise of The Word Exchange isn’t a real thing. Yet. That’s key, the word yet. Anana works with her father at the offices for the North American Dictionary for the English Language. Set sometime in the not-to-distant future, their world has been overtaken by technology, and the printed word, in the form of bookstores, newspapers, and libraries, is teetering on the edge of extinction. Teetering to the point where it’s already fallen over the edge; it’s just a matter of time before it drops into oblivion. Days away from the launch party for the last printed edition of the dictionary, Anana’s father disappears, and then things get really weird.
I wish I could tell you what happens here. It took me over a week just to read to the 50% mark on this book. It plods. It plods and plods and then it plods some more.
This is the issue I’ve been having with literary fiction for a year now, probably longer. I miss the days where the meandering pace meant little to me, because I tore through the book anyway, immersed in the language and the characters and the setting, the descriptions bringing every page to crackling life. I miss the Lily Tucks and Tana Frenches and Paul Hardings, those works that let me disappear into the story only to resurface hours or days later, blinking like an owl.
I wanted to like this book. Like so many literary stories in the past year, I get excited by the blurbs, by the covers, and then the words fail to work their magic. The thing about The Word Exchange is it has within its pages the potential to start a dialog, to jumpstart our hearts and minds, because Anana and Doug and Bart (Doug’s assistant) are anomolies in a society dependant on handheld devices that know their owners’ whims and needs, inside and out. Called a Meme, it hails you a cab when you’re thinking it’s too far to walk, it orders you take out at the first rumble of your stomach. You are always on, always in touch.
In short, it’s a leash.
We’re already seeing some of the realities of the world of The Word Exchange come to life here, in the present. People don’t read newspapers any longer, not the paper kind. Borders is a thing of the past, Barnes & Noble suffering. Ebooks rule. Every third person owns a tablet, and four year olds know how to work smartphones. Kids don’t read books anymore. Not ones with actual pages. They can hold a twenty minute conversation via text, but when it comes to actually conversing face to face, they’re stumped and reach for their phones.
This should be a cautionary tale. It’s a glimpse of our future, of the way things will be if we don’t make an effort to change, except that’s not likely to happen. We’re too far gone to reverse course.
But I couldn’t push past the 50% mark. It took far too long to reach it. The problem is, I don’t know if it’s a result of my own displeasure when it comes to the state of literary fiction these days, or if it’s the book itself. I’d like for someone to finish what I’ve started and tell me if it’s worth sacrificing the hours I don’t have to spare to find out what happens in the end.
That, however, means recommending a book I haven’t finished, and that’s something I just don’t do.
Copy of The Word Exchange provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.