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Vox

Review

Vox

In oppressive societies, citizens feel like they have no voice. In totalitarian societies, they actually don’t have one. Authoritarian systems work to quash opposition and dissent, even conversation and diverse perspectives, leaving people with no way to speak up or speak out. In Christina Dalcher’s dystopian debut, VOX, women are literally silenced as rights, freedoms and modes of expression are stripped away.

Dr. Jean McClellan was a successful neurolinguist, researching and developing a cure for aphasia before she was made to leave the workforce. In the America in which she lives, one that is just barely in the future, women have been stripped of their rights to work and to make reproductive choices. More than that, though, they have lost access to words and language. First, books and newspapers have been taken from them, then education, and finally verbal communication.

"In the tradition of some great classic and contemporary dystopian fiction, VOX marries the plausible with the terrifying.... The gift in this novel is a set of provocative questions about power and gender, silence and voice, and the courage and risk it takes to speak out and make change."

Like all American women, Jean --- and even her very young daughter, Sonia --- are fitted with bracelets that track the number of words they speak each day. Any words over the allotted 100, and they receive physical punishment. Even those 100 daily words may be taken from them soon. When the President’s brother suffers a head injury in an accident, government officials request Jean’s help. They ask her to return to work to find a cure for his impairments; in exchange, she and Sonia can remove their bracelets and regain their voices. These freedoms don’t sit well with Jean as she finds herself still trapped in a culture of repression and fear.

Going back to work for Jean also means going back to her lover, Lorenzo. As dangerous as it is to work with the man she loves and as horrible as it is to betray her husband, she knows that the truly terrible danger before her is connected to the work she is doing both for and against the government. Joining an underground group of resistors, Jean hopes to thwart the regime that has created a society in which women are silenced and men, like her own teenage son, become complicit. As a wife, mother, scientist and friend, Jean is challenged in a number of ways to break free of expectations --- those enacted in law, and those more subtle. Dalcher doesn’t shy away from the conflict Jean feels as she is faced with these obstacles.

In the tradition of some great classic and contemporary dystopian fiction, VOX marries the plausible with the terrifying. Dalcher’s premise, and her focus on gender and pseudo-Christian values, is timely. In fact, it is so timely that occasionally it feels purely like a fictional response to recent headlines and sociopolitical shifts. Jean is contrasted with her old friend, Jackie Juarez, who proves to have been right all along in her political and cultural concerns but who, for some reason, Dalcher writes as a quite unlikable amalgam of stereotypes. Lorenzo, too, is often a cartoonish portrayal. She does a better job making others more layered, complicated and nuanced, though character development is not a strength here. The gift in this novel is a set of provocative questions about power and gender, silence and voice, and the courage and risk it takes to speak out and make change.

VOX reads easy and is an interesting exercise in political speculation, with elements of a scientific thriller thrown in for good measure.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on August 20, 2018

Vox
by Christina Dalcher

  • Publication Date: August 21, 2018
  • Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0440000785
  • ISBN-13: 9780440000785