Hardcover, 326 pagesPublished August 21st 2018 by Berkley
Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.
On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial–this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.
This is just the beginning.
Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.
But this is not the end.
For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.
Somewhere along the line, what was known as the Bible Belt, that swath of Southern states where religion ruled, started expanding. It morphed from belt to corset, covering all but the country’s limbs—the democratic utopias of California, New England, the Pacific Northwest, DC, the southern jurisdictions of Texas and Florida—places so far on the blue end of the spectrum they seemed untouchable. But the corset turned into a full bodysuit, eventually reaching all the way to Hawaii. And we never saw it coming.
Christina Dalcher’s Vox is an envisioning of what would transpire if right-wing radicals and fundamentalists were allowed to take over America. Hmm, what a concept. I won’t point out the obvious climate in which this book was published
(oh, wait, I just did) and the commentary on our government that could easily be read into it. Such as—oh, I don’t know—in passages like this one:
At the beginning, a few people managed to get out. Some crossed the border into Canada; others left on boats for Cuba, Mexico, the islands. It didn’t take long for the authorities to set up checkpoints, and the wall separating Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas from Mexico itself had already been built, so the egress stopped fairly quickly. “We can’t have our citizens, our families, our mothers and fathers, fleeing,” the president said in one of his early addresses.
The plot of Vox is simple. Dr. Jean McClellan is one of millions of American women who didn’t get out in time. Who are trapped in America stripped of their jobs, their personal finances and their words. Once at the forefront of her field and on the verge of finding a cure for disease of the brain, she is now reduced to being confined within the four walls of her home, counting her words for the day and making dinner.
“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.”
What I will say is that when I picked up this book and read the blurb, I thought that an examination of these things told through the eyes of a “vox” would unfold, that the oppression experienced and the country’s direction described would be allowed to evolve and transport the reader to a new place of social scrutiny, even as the plot entertained and even elicited the occasional laugh. But that didn’t really happen in the way that I’d hoped; instead, Voxseemed rather like a bipolar haircut—like a mullet: literary imagery and plot setup in the front, full-on commercial melodrama in the back. It was as if Dalcher started out with a lofty idea but could not sustain it and, instead, resorted the love affairs and gorillas (yes, gorillas) to tell the story instead.
It wasn’t, however, all dreadful. (Okay, maybe that’s a strong word. Lackluster is a more accurate one.) The premise was enticing, the title is arresting, and the cover art is just enough – minimalist in a way that highlights the words snatched from these women. Those things make Dalcher’s Vox a desirable read from the moment you hold it in your hot little hand. There was an unexpected plot twist surrounding one of Dr. Jean McClellan’s sons
What I appreciated most about this novel were those few moments where Dalcher snuck in the truly disturbing and uncomfortable, mostly through moments between Jean and her six-year-old daughter, Sonia. Little girls do have that ability to pull at our heartstrings while simultaneously being the vehicle for the truly sinister moments in social commentary in literature, don’t they? And our little Sonia lived up to that duty in several satisfying moments in Vox.
The ending is a jumbled (hot) mess, a series of unlikely though convenient events. I hate quickly summed-up bow-tie endings that feel rushed, like a six-year-old hurrying to tell mommy all about their day. To me, they are the ultimate cop-out and proof pudding of lack of true skill and finesse as a writer. That must be the literary slant to my mind talking, but I’m okay with that. The Goodreads description of this book made me think Vox would take more time to explore and lay out the events around the breakdown of American society to the point that women become voxes. But it wasn’t that kind of read at all. For the most part, all of the deterioration of American society has already happened at the start of the book (though we do get snippy interior commentary on it from Jean), and we follow her around watching her days as she copes with it. Christina Dalcher’s Vox ended up being a far more commercial read than I thought it would be, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. But I just wasn’t impressed by the execution of the second half of this novel. Better luck next time. 3 stars ***
**I received an advance-read copy of this book from the publisher, Berkley, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**
FOLLOW ME AT: