"Lexicon," by Max Barry. Penguin Press, 387 pp. $26.95.
It's a little eerie that this book was released so soon after the NSA whistle blower scandal, I have to admit. Conspiracy theorists, I'm sure, will be pleased.
Max Barry brings the discussions of privacy, persuasion and mind control to fiction in "Lexicon."
Wil Parke is captured in an airport bathroom by two men who believe him to be part of a conspiracy involving "poets," individuals trained in persuasion who can control the mind and actions of others with certain words.
Emily Ruff is a con-woman, making ends meet with three-card-monte on the streets of San Francisco. She's recruited into this school of persuasion, where graduates are renamed after famous authors, such as Bronte and Eliot.
Poets, by their very nature, are careful not to reveal too much about themselves to others, for fear they will be "compromised" by one of their own.
"Lexicon," brings to light the common practice of personal sharing, through the relationships between characters. If we fear compromise, Barry suggests, we should be careful not to reveal too much of ourselves, to make it difficult for others to compromise us. However, he cautions also against complete isolation: without revealing ourselves at all we miss personal connection, and we miss the potential to create meaning above that which looks to compromise us.