The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon (Doubleday, 2014) occupies a category whose past luminaries include J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and numerous science-fiction and fantasy series.
As The Word Exchange opens, a woman named Ana explains that her father disappeared from the “Dictionary.” And her statement is doubly true.
Ana’s father Doug has physically disappeared, having failed to show up for his dinner appointment with her. And his biographical entry in the dictionary he edited has also disappeared.
Dictionaries, newspapers and books are all-but things of the past, because of “The Word Exchange.”
(Ana’s father and his protegee Bart are among “the few people” Ana knows who still read from books instead of using “smart screens” or “Memes” that combine hand-held devices with biofeedback sensors. Some users even have microchip implants; Ana is contemplating this herself.)
Ana’s “Meme” changes her tea order to a hot toddy in response to her emotional state. It then supplies her with a reminder from her personal calendar before she can even fully formulate her fear over whether she might have confused the date of an upcoming event.
What harrowing consequences are in store in a world in which written language is consolidated in a single digital platform — and, moreover, humans no longer look up words or appointments on their own initiative? Not when the Word Exchange can supply the information before the user fully realizes the lapse.