Christina Dalcher writes about a woman not unlike herself in her debut novel, Vox. Her main character, Dr. Jean McClellan is a PhD nuerolinguist working on research about aphasia. Well, she formerly researched language changes after brain injury. But in Dalcher’s speculative fiction world, an extreme right-wing political and social movement silences women and takes away their jobs.
So, Jean tries to manage life without many of those things that previously structured her life. She becomes a stay-at-home mother of her four kids, three sons and one daughter. And she—mostly—speaks the allotted 100 words each day. Every time one of the kids acts out or hurts themselves, Jean must measure her words of censure or comfort. Not to mention how it changes her communication with Patrick, her husband.
Jean and her young daughter, along with every other woman in the U.S., are limited by a counter on their wrists. At word 101, the counter begins to shock the female wearing it. It’s been this way for some time, but Jean still isn’t adjusted. She yearns for her old life, her colleagues, and her scientific research.
And then, there’s a twist of fate. The life she’s been leading shifts again, and Jean is thrown into something new. Too much more down this path and I’ll spill all the spoilers!
As I started this book, all I could think about was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Vox felt derivative, which did not enhance the reading experience. And then, all of a sudden, Dalcher stepped up her game. Jean became more fully formed, and less like Serena Joy. Plus, the plot intensified. By the book’s end I wanted more and wished for an adaptation to the screen.
Dalcher portrays Jean as both a scientific woman, and a rapid-fire thinker. This first-person account certainly doesn’t limit Jean’s internal dialogue. She is clearly not a meditator, as every moment in her life is full of busy thoughts. It felt mildly overwhelming and even annoying at times. But imagine having to silence yourself, when so much is happening in your thoughts!
Just when I thought I’d grasped the trajectory of Vox’s plot, Dalcher threw me a curve ball or three. So I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. I appreciated the balance between social commentary and action, with emphasis on the latter. Dalcher lets the reader create their own interpretations of this speculative world, and never inserts herself. But her heroine is clearly on the side of “how things used to be,” creating existential and practical conflict.
My 2017 reading year is certainly a “Year of the Woman,” as I’ve chosen many fiction and nonfiction books about women’s issues. This is the perfect book to close that trend for the year!
Many thanks to NetGalley, Berkley Publishing Group, and the author for the digital ARC in exchange for this honest review.