Why do we find dystopian novels so intriguing? I often ask myself this question every time I crack open a new dystopian book that promises me many hours of reading about a future world where a plague has wiped out half of the population or humans themselves created the downfall of society.
I do believe what makes a dystopian novel truly memorable is when the reader puts the book down, takes a deep breath and says, “yep, it may seem crazy but I can see it happening”. That is a truly terrifying thought that makes you reflect on the world we live in and what could happen in the distant future.
Vox by Christina Dalcher left me with such thoughts.
This book will make you angry.
This book will scare you.
Most importantly, this book will make you think and ask “what if?”
“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.”
This dystopian novel is set in a future America where the government has decided women are to be silenced by allowing them to speak a maximum of 100 words per day. Women wear counters on their wrists that keep track of the number of words they speak in a day. If they go over 100 words, they will suffer severe consequences. Overtime, women no longer hold jobs and girls are no longer taught how to read or write. Girls who speak the fewest words in school are given rewards. Half of the population has been silenced.
Dr. Jean McClellan was a renowned linguist and a mother of four before the counter was slapped on her wrist. She did not resist when the counter was placed on her six year old daughter’s wrist, despite knowing what happens when speech and language is taken away from a child.
“Evil triumphs when good men do nothing. That’s what they say, right?”
The men in the book play important roles as the story progresses. Jean’s husband, Patrick reminds her and their daughter Sonia when they are running low on words. He uses close-ended questions when communicating with his wife and daughter as the counter gets dangerously close to 100. Jean has to watch her husband and sons openly communicate with each other while her daughter shakes or nods her head throughout dinner. Jean also watches her oldest son get pulled into the “pure movement” as he follows the very men that silenced his mother and sister.
“I don’t hate them. I tell myself I don’t hate them. But sometimes I do”
Jean finds herself becoming resentful as she watches the men in her life enjoy the freedom of speech that was taken away from her and Sonia. When a group of men in power reach out to Jean asking her to come back to work for a mission, she has an important decision to make: Do as she is told and enjoy a temporary freedom of speech for herself and her daughter, or fight like hell to free all the women who have been silenced.
“I learned that once a plan is in place, everything can happen overnight.”
I think what caught me off guard was the unique twist on a way to silence women. While I have read similar stories like The Handmaiden’s Tale, this book offered a new and terrifying scenario of women wearing word counters. This part of the story horrified me and captured my attention from the very start. I was completely enthralled by the story and I was anxious to know what Jean would do and how she would fight against the powerful leaders who silenced so many women.
“There’s a resistance?” The word sounds sweet as I say it.
“Honey, there’s always a resistance.”
I was not expecting the disturbing twist that came when Jean figured out what the men in power were planning for the future and what role she was to play in it. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse than word counters, it does. I was caught off guard and I became even more fearful for Jean and her daughter. It was a genius twist that made me incredibly angry all over again. I also thought that the character of Sonia was an important motivating factor for Jean. I felt her pain as her daughter’s counter went over 100 words. It was heartbreaking, and I could feel a mother’s anguish in that very important scene that pushes the story forward.
While I was completely absorbed in the story, there were several flaws in the writing style along with the resolution towards the end. I found the buildup to be fantastic, but the climax was quick and book ended far too quickly. I was confused by the conflict and chaos as the ending was approaching. I do feel like the author needed to slow down and not rush the resolution. I thought there were too many characters involved in the conflict and the big scene in the end. This only made the ending more perplexing and it made me question several character’s motives and reasoning. Furthermore, some of the characters did not feel well developed enough. I would have enjoyed knowing more of their backstory or just getting under their skin and finding out what drives them.
“You can start small, Jeanie,” she said. “Attend some rallies, hand out flyers, talk to a few people about issues. You don’t have to change the world all by yourself, you know.”
Overall, this book was very thought provoking and important to read. I felt heavy after reading it but I also found myself reflecting on the world we live in. There were so many questions and thoughts that went through my mind while I as reading, and I think that is the big takeaway. Despite the numerous flaws, this book makes you think and ask questions. If you ask me, the author succeeded in terrifying us with a dystopian novel that made us ask the question “what if” and shudder from just the thought of it.