Killer poets out to destroy the world


Before I tell you about Max Barry’s wonderful, enthralling new novel Lexicon, I have to tell you a story about my sister, Ericka and a reading we went to once. This is tangentially related to Max Barry, so here goes.

I took her to a Mary Gaitskill reading once in the early aughts. My sister had read, and enjoyed, Veronica. Before the reading began my sister kept going on and on about how much she loved Jennifer Government. I was only vaguely listening and making murmurs of agreement. Jennifer Government is a great book. Finally, she pointed up toward the table that displayed all of Gaitskill’s books.

“How come they don’t have Jennifer Government up there? That’s the best one!” she said.
“Because Mary Gaitskill didn’t write it. Max Barry did,” I said.

I can’t read a Max Barry book now without thinking of that.

So you probably didn’t come here to learn about how my sister can tell the difference between the names Max and Mary, you came to hear all about Lexicon, Max Barry’s deliciously nerdy thriller about killer poets.

Yeah, killer poets. And when I say killer, I’m talking gun-wielding, persuasive wordsmiths and not the kind that will do you in with their sighs and melancholy.

Lexicon opens with a confused guy named, Wil, being chased through an airport by men he doesn’t know. All Wil wants is to get into his girlfriend’s car and go home. That doesn’t happen. Instead he’s stuck with Eliot, a coy bastard who won’t tell Wil what’s going on or why there’s a trail of bodies following them as they try to escape.

We also meet Emily a supersmart street kid who is taken to a super secret school where she and a bunch of other qualified people learn to hone their powers of persuasion using, mostly, words. In fact, what they learn is so powerful that they can control people’s minds with just a few words. It’s fascinating.

The book unfolds as we find out, slowly, what Emily and Wil have to do with each other and what, exactly, has made these poets so bloodthirsty and why they all fear that an apocalypse can be brought about by a single word.

This one is a fun to read. All about the power of words, privacy, and the lengths people will (or won’t, in some cases) go for love. At times it feels a little coy and other the violence seems to drag out a little more than is necessary, and yet I devoured the whole thing in a matter of days. What I liked so much (aside from all the stuff about words and language, which is awesome) is that at different times I loved and hated both the main characters and actively rooted for either their death or their continued life depending on the chapter.

This is a pretty sweet thriller filled with all kinds of dead on satire that might make you squirm a little with how spot on it is. Another solid novel from Max Barry who writes some of the most wonderful satire on modern life I’ve ever read (seriously you should check out Syrup and Jennifer Government, they’re great, great books).

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