Barry, Max. Lexicon.

NY: Penguin, 2013.

Barry isn’t a terribly prolific author (more’s the pity), this being only his fifth novel in fourteen years. Every one of them is a good yarn and highly original and each has a strong streak of the satirically bizarre — but this one is his best yet, hands down.

I made the mistake (I should know better by now) of starting it when I was working on a project against a deadline. “I’ll just read the first chapter, see what it’s about, and come back to it later.” Yeah, right. I actually skipped a couple of meals to make more reading time because I couldn’t turn loose of it. I had to know what happened next!

The story opens very much in media res and it never really lets up, following two separate characters in more or less alternating chapters, until the two narratives eventually join. Wil Parke is a carpenter, Australian by birth and now living in the U.S., who is set upon at the Portland airport by people he doesn’t know, for reasons he doesn’t begin to understand. And the people he does know, specifically his girlfriend, Cecelia, have changed in horrible ways. He’s sure he’s about to die. Cut to sixteen-year-old Emily Ruff, three-card monte hustler in San Francisco. She’s about to be recruited to attend The Academy in Washington, D.C., where the curriculum is focused on learning to persuade people — not just talking other people into things with reasoned argument but literally taking over their minds in a sort-of scientific way. Emily is a prodigy, but she doesn’t know it yet — and neither do those who run the Academy and the Organization of which it’s a part. Too bad for them.

That’s the set-up and I can’t say much more than that with ruining it for you. Barry’s background, apparently, before he became a successful writer, was in marketing, which has been a theme in most of his work. But it’s obvious he’s also a very bright and imaginative guy and extremely well read. Not a chapter goes by without the reader thinking to himself, “Damn. He’s right,” or “Wow, I never understood that before,” or “That explains a lot of things.” Mythology, applied psychology, neurolinguistics, and conspiracy theory are all among the key ingredients.

And on top of all that, there’s also a beautiful little love story set in Broken Hill, New South Wales. In fact, that’s the engine driving much of the action, but you won’t figure out the whys and wherefores till late in the book (and I’m certainly not going to tell you how). And the style? Man, has Barry ever got style. I’m going to put this book on the shelf now, very gently, and in a year, maybe two, when the details have begun to fade in my mind a little, I’ll take it down and reread it. And this time, I’m clearing my calendar and locking the door for a couple days.


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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Sounds cool. It’s a promising sign that you want to pick it up and read it again.

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