Book Review: Vox by Christina Dalcher

“You have no idea, ladies. No goddamned idea. We’re on a slippery slide to prehistory, girls. Think about it. Think about where you’ll be—where your daughters will be—when the courts turn back the clock. Think about words like ‘spousal permission’ and ‘paternal consent’. Think about waking up one morning and finding you don’t have a voice in anything.” She pauses as after each of these last few words, her teeth clenched.

Vox by Christina Dalcher is a feminist, speculative fiction novel that imagines a world where American women and girls are limited to one hundred words a day and thorough this hyperbolic example our present apathy is challenged. Like similar novels before it, Vox presents a scenario where a devoutly religious group has infiltrated the government and seized control of America—steadily working to reconfigure society to better match their ideals. These ideals equate to solely male leadership and stoic, silent female companions.

“Whose fault do you think it was?” he said.
I stood in my kitchen, wanting to explain, careful not to, while he told me we’d marched one too many times, written one too many letters, screamed one too many words.
“You women. You need to be taught a lesson,” he said, and hung up.

Women and girls as young as infants are fitted with a word counter that hangs on their wrist like a shackle, buzzing with each spoken word and emitting an excruciating electric shock when the one hundred word limit is surpassed. This method is cruel but effective and soon women are forced back into the lifestyles of generations past: homemakers and childminders submitting to their husband’s every whim. And just like that, half of the country’s population is silenced.

Everything turned out pretty much as Jackie thought it would. And worse. They came at us from so many vectors, and so quietly, we never had a chance to assemble ranks.
One thing I learned from Jackie: I can’t protest what you don’t see coming.

I learned other things a year ago. I learned how difficult it is to write a letter to my congressman without a pen, or to mail a letter without a stamp. I learned how easy it is for a man of office supply store to say, “I’m sorry ma’am, I can’t sell you that,” or for the postal worker to shake his head when anyone without a Y chromosome asked for stamps. I learned how quickly a cell phone account can be cancelled, and how efficient young enlisted men can be at installing cameras. I learned that once a plan is in place, everything can happen overnight.

Jean is a former neurolinguist whose breakthrough contributions to scientific research, particularly in the area of Wernicke’s aphasia, a form of brain injury that results in clear speech that is a nonsensical jumble of words, were halted by the inception of what comes to be known as the Pure Movement. She watches as her young daughter learns to get through each day with few to no words and, with her extensive knowledge of language development, she begins to worry if her daughter will ever speak with the volume and frequency Jean’s own childhood held. Meanwhile, Jean stands silent witness to the infiltration of the Pure regime into her own home—through her husband’s complicity and her eldest son’s eager adoption of their doctrine.

Maybe this is how it happened in Germany with the Nazis, in Bosnia with the Serbs, in Rwanda with the Hutus. I’ve often wondered about that, about how kids can turn into monsters, how they learn that killing is right and oppression is just, how in one single generation the world can change on its axis into a place that’s unrecognizable.

When the Pure Movement leader and the United States President both seek out Jean following a terrible accident that has left the president’s brother suffering from an injury to the Wernicke brain region, she is forced to consider whether the possibility of returning to work is worth her involvement with the enemy itself. Decide she does, and she returns to work with her former colleagues but it quickly becomes clear that her reason for being sought out so hastily is more sinister than she could very have imagined.

We lock eyes, the three of us, and I know we’re thinking the same thing. Every piece of equipment is new shiny, recently installed. And all of it is exactly what we need to work on the Wernicke cure. You don’t set up a lab with twenty-five million dollars’ worth of apparatus in three days. Also, there was that animal smell in the first room. The mice and rabbits have been here a while.

They’ve been here longer than the president’s brother has been in intensive care.

It’s almost as if they already knew,” Lin says. “As if they planned for it.”

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A review copy of this title was provided by Berkley Publishing

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