Book Review of “Vox: A Novel” by Christina Dalcher.
This novel is set in the not too distant future, where institutional misogyny has reached such heights that women are now totally out of the workforce and females are only allowed to speak 100 words a day (and no cheating with sign language, either). The new government has put wristbands that count every female’s words and if they go above their allotment, they get an electric shock that gets worse the more they speak. In this world we find Jean, a former scientist who was on the brink of curing aphasia, who is now relegated to her home, where she lives with her husband, three sons and her young daughter. However, when the president’s brother is in a skiing accident, with a brain injury that gives him the exact type of aphasia Jean had been trying to cure, the government calls on her to rejoin her old team and finish the job. But all is not what it seems in this dictatorial, woman hating world. (Thanks for the free book, @PRHGlobal/@prhinternational)
If you’ve read or watched Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” you probably already know how far a vivid imagination can go to invent a society that treats their women horribly. But if Atwood’s Gilead wasn’t bad enough, Dalcher has concocted an even more disturbing scenario, where the government uses both science and technology to effectively shut up more than half the population, and thereby force all females into full submission, just “as God intended.” Furthermore, without the fears of civilization dying out due to drastically reduced reproduction rates, Dalcher leans the horrors of her dystopia fully on the aspects of “family values” and “purity.” This means things like teaching Christianity in schools, no homosexuality, no birth control, no promiscuity, no adultery, and much more. Thankfully, Dalcher doesn’t describe all the aspects of this society (for example, I wonder what they did with non-Christians and atheists), but there are more than enough hints to make everything feel quite gruesome.
Since the comparison has already begun, I’ll continue by noting that the biggest difference between Atwood and Dalcher is that Atwood’s June/Offred is a quiet, if not morose rebel, who was invented at a time when social activism was somewhat on the quieter side compared to the turbulent 60s and 70s. Although the year isn’t specified in this book, Dalcher makes it clear that Jean is living in the immediate aftermath of the Obama era, just long enough afterwards to have witnessed the beginnings of the #MeToo movement and women’s marches, but with someone else in the White House. In Jean’s world, she remembers how she essentially ignored the protests, and the depths of the new administration’s evil forces, while disbelieving that her America could ever allow radical misogynists to wreak such levels of havoc on her gender. This makes Jean feel guilty about her previous inaction and Dalcher draws her as a sharply cynical woman, with a caustic sense of humor, who isn’t above swearing like a drunken sailor – which also makes her precisely the type of woman that these governmental measures are trying to end. It also makes Jean a far more conniving rebel than June/Offred, because Jean has just enough power to wield over these authorities to allow her to become an exception to their rules, at least temporarily.
Dalcher takes this wily Jean, and builds the plot around her to take as much advantage of that short-lived exceptional status, which ends up giving us a plot that’s paced at breakneck speed, that should be the envy of any thriller novelist. Of course, Dalcher’s many twists only add to the suspense, which gets even more intriguing with the addition of (surprise) a touch of romance along the way. I know it’s a cliché, but this is a true page-turner, and even when I was appalled by some of the things that Dalcher describes here, like the proverbial car crash, I just couldn’t take my eyes away. Obviously, this novel is not for the faint of heart, but Dalcher’s injections of humor and sarcasm in her rapier wit prose helps it along. More importantly, these days, it probably should become required reading; because if reality is supposed to be stranger than fiction, I pray this book is a gigantic the exception to that rule! In short, I was totally blown away by this novel, and despite how distressing this book may seem, I have to give it a full five stars.
Berkeley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, released “Vox: A Novel” by Christina Dalcher on August 15, 2018. This book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo eBooks, Kobo audio books, eBooks, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. Thanks for the free book, @PRHGlobal/@prhinternational, via NetGalley.