By Ekta R. Garg
September 12, 2018
Genre: Dystopian thriller
Release date: August 21, 2018
Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars
After an extremist government legalizes the silencing of half the population in the U.S., one woman decides to fight back. She will do so for the sake of her daughter and future generations, all while dealing with her own feelings about a colleague. Author Christina Dalcher offers readers an incredible concept that doesn’t get the support it needs from either the story or its characters in her convoluted debut novel Vox.
Dr. Jean McClellan used to have a flourishing career as a cognitive linguist. She and her colleagues had, in fact, reached the cusp of a breakthrough in treating patients who have lost their ability to speak due to disease or brain injury. As the wife of a physician prominent in politics and mother to four beautiful children, Jean’s life seemed to emulate the typical American dream.
Except lately, America is caught in a nightmare. After the successful presidential election of a radical right-wing administration, all women in the U.S. are forbidden to work. Their education gets reduced to basic arithmetic and extensive home economics courses. And—the most telling difference between men and women—they’re only allowed to speak 100 words a day. Special counters, locked on their wrists, keep track and reset at midnight every night. Go over the 100 words, and the woman, or girl, wearing it receives an electric shock.
In her mind, Jean fights the establishment every day. She also fights with herself; years earlier her college roommate and then-best friend warned her about the changing tide in politics. Jean ignored her friend and now finds herself drowning in near silence.
Until, that is, word comes from the White House about a temporary reprieve. The president’s brother, and most trusted advisor, gets injured in a skiing accident, and the administration wants Jean to continue work on the cure she almost found. Suspicious at first of the president’s offer, Jean negotiates with him and secures removal of her own counter as well as her daughter’s. Now she has just weeks to figure out how to keep them off as well as how to create significant, lasting, change for women everywhere.
Author Christina Dalcher taps into the political climate of the day with her debut novel. Unfortunately, aside from the politics, almost nothing else seems plausible in the story, starting with the timeline. The counters and all of the other sweeping changes have been in effect for a single year. Dalcher requires her readers to suspend disbelief completely and just accept that the widespread changes occurred almost overnight without much protest or pushback from anyone. She glosses over any concrete details of how this happened, which may leave readers wary of what happens next.
Within the first several pages of the book, government officials appear and take off Jean’s counter so she can respond to the president’s proposal. Readers only get to see her internal and external struggle with the limited word count for a short period of time before she gets to run off and play the hero, and there’s plenty of play involved. Despite having a solid home life, Jean tries to justify the extramarital affair she’s having with a colleague by claiming that his outward resistance is more valuable than her husband’s silent disapproval. The fact that that colleague is Italian and gets to come and go to his home country adds to his appeal for her and to the trope for readers.
Jean’s relationship with Sonia, her daughter and youngest child, offers some sweet reprieves throughout the story, but as Jean begins to pursue the cure the president demands even thoughts of Sonia get pushed to the background. It’s never really clear how finding a cure for the president’s brother will enable Jean to put an end to the existing administration’s iron-fisted rule. Dalcher provides a half-baked plot of a coup to overthrow the government led by those close to Jean, but the connection seems tenuous at best.
Civil disobedience has always been a hallmark of the U.S.’s history, but Dalcher sets her story in an alternative America that ignores that history. In it, resistance doesn’t exist and people only of themselves while using “the cause” as an excuse. Fans of dystopian fiction will want to skip this one, especially considering the rushed climax that—ironically—depends on a man to make the dangerous play. I recommend readers Bypass Vox.