Published by Berkley
Publication date: August 21, 2018
Genres: Book Clubs, Contemporary, Debut, Dystopian, Fiction
Remember two weeks ago when, after reading Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win, I was surprised that a political novel would turn out to be such a trigger for me? Magnify that times ten and you’ll have a picture of my reaction to Christina Dalcher’s dystopian debut, Vox. There’s a new American president, one not suited for the job, but well propped up by the religious right. Within the early days of his presidency women are deemed the greatest danger to making America great again. What to do? First of all, invoke the Bible. A lot. Remove women from the workplace, segregate schools and change the curriculum so that girls only learn basic math and Home Ec. And then because the women will rage and howl, enact an executive order that forbids them to speak more than 100 words a day. Enforce it with wristbands that count the words and administer an electric shock when the total is exceeded. In short, render 51% of the population mute.
Dr. Jean McClellan is (or was before she was removed from her job) a scientist in the field of cognitive linguistics. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and four children, the youngest of which is a six-year-old daughter who must also wear the band on her wrist. Her oldest is a teenage son who has dropped AP Biology and Physics to take AP Religious Studies because it now has greater weight for getting into college. Her life is shrinking until the President’s brother suffers brain trauma that leaves him unable to speak intelligibly. His special advisor, Reverend Carl, offers her a deal if she will resume work on the serum she created that restores function to the part of the brain that controls speech. It’s here that novel switches from simply rage and fear inducing to fascinating. Would you do it? What would you demand? So many questions.
Dalcher populates this new America so completely that every question likely to spring up in the reader’s mind is answered—and the answers are all grim. America is returning to 1950s domesticity and bliss. Even good men decide they’re not too bothered by wives who don’t say much. There are more jobs for them so the economy looks to be doing well, if you don’t count the women who are no longer employed. On and on it goes and it is so terribly real; it feels close enough to where we are now, that my Kindle copy of the book has more highlighting than not and notes that read: I am literally going to vomit and oh no, he didn’t.
Which is not to say the novel is perfect. Dalcher does an outstanding job exploring and illustrating the implications of apathy amongst voters and thinking ‘that could never happen here’, but other aspects of the novel don’t hold up quite as well. The science details are complex enough that as the pace quickens they become confusing. To the point that Susie, the blogger who recommended the book to me, thought the novel ended differently than I did.
What Vox is is very good dystopian fiction. Dalcher creates such a mood that the novel felt like a blade being held against my throat. My pulse ratcheted up with fear and anger and I wanted to move away from it, but knew I couldn’t. Her writing may have lacked finesse, but it got the job done in evoking strong emotion. Even if you’re not at all worried about the state of this country, Vox is still compelling reading about the slippery slope of civil liberties. And great reading.