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‘Lexicon’ features liberal arts secret agents

Special to The Prospector

Are you a cat person or a dog person?  What is your favorite color? Pick a number from 1 – 10. Do you love your family? Why did you do it?

Properly answer these questions and you too could be chosen as a poet/secret agent tasked with manipulating individuals, world governments and the media.

In Max Barry’s new novel, “Lexicon,” dual plots follow the rise and fall of rogue agent “Virginia Wolfe.”

Rather than hyper-athletic military meatheads, the top operatives for the shadowy Academy are students of the written arts.  Prospective agents study literature, linguistics, forensics and communications.  By advancing their academic study, they can develop the skills to invoke words of power that force listeners to submit and obey.  Each graduate is granted a title based on their skills with the most powerful given names such as Eliot, Brontë and Yeats.

When Wolfe releases an untamed word that destroys a town in Australia, the Academy attempts to recover the lone survivor.  The word now only exists in his brain and they will extract it with or without his permission.  This survivor must navigate the labyrinthine Academy’s bureaucratic systems that exist just below the surface of society.

This book moves swiftly, trapping the reader in a world where the Word is king.  It seems to offer validation for the oft-scorned fields of the liberal arts, which is a pleasant change of pace.

Though the focus is certainly on literature, the novel still has car chase scenes, shoot-outs and murder.

Fans of Barry will find references to his past works, but the novel feels quite different from his previous texts.  Barry has matured as a writer and brings a clean sharp edge to the book.

Parts of the novel can feel murky, but they combine together to create a celebration of language manipulation.  With references to a variety of literary disciplines, students can find what can only be described as Easter eggs in the book.

News clippings and blog posts, used as epigraphs, create a decoupage of backstory that shows the abilities of the poets. Their knack for controlling the media pushes the novel from simple spy-thriller to the border of an Orwellian dystopia.

The book is a must read for any English major, but will be fun for any fan of literature and communication.

“Lexicon” was released by Penguin Group US and published in June 2013.

S. David Ramirez may be reached at [email protected].

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‘Lexicon’ features liberal arts secret agents