Released: July 2019
Publisher: Penguin | Viking
Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Speculative
Jean McClellan spends her time in almost complete silence, limited to just one hundred words a day. Any more, and a thousand volts of electricity will course through her veins.
Maybe it’s a foolish thing, but I’ve never been able to figure out exactly how to describe an electric jolt of pain to a six-year-old. It would be like telling a child about the horrors of the electric chair in order to instill some sense of right and wrong. Grisly, and unnecessary. What parent would enumerate the exact workings of Old Sparky to get their kid not to fib or steal?
Now the new government is in power, everything has changed. But only if you’re a woman.
I learned other things a year ago. I learned how difficult it is to write a letter to my congressman without a pen, or to mail a letter without a stamp. I learned how easy it is for the man at the office supply store to say, “I’m sorry, ma’am. I can’t sell you that,” or for the postal worker to shake his head when anyone without a Y chromosome asked for stamps. I learned how quickly a cell phone account can be canceled, and how efficient young enlisted men can be at installing cameras.
I learned that once a plan is in place, everything can happen overnight.
Almost overnight, bank accounts are frozen, passports are taken away and seventy million women lose their jobs. Even more terrifyingly, young girls are no longer taught to read or write.
By six, Sonia should have an army of ten thousand lexemes, individual troops that assemble and come to attention and obey the orders her small, still-plastic brain issues. Should have, if the three R’s weren’t now reduced to one: simple arithmetic.After all,one day my daughter will be expected to shop and run a household, to be a devoted and dutiful wife. You need math for that, but not spelling. Not literature. Not a voice.
For herself, her daughter, and for every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice. This is only the beginning…
For fans of the latest craze in Handmaid’s Tale style stories, this one might seem like the next in a long line, but in this reviewer’s opinion, Vox is one of the better titles with these themes to be released in recent times.
That doesn’t mean it’s without issues.
Certain things are glossed over, such as the amount of time it would take to produce a certain medical cure in a lab. Regardless of the fact that the cure was mostly complete before the lab was shut down over a year ago, re-creating it from scratch would take more than the 90 days they’re originally given, which is then cut down to a month, and then eventually needs to be completed within 6 days.
As someone who isn’t a chemist or a scientist, I have no idea how long these things take, but starting from scratch should take more than 6 days to synthesize and test alone.
There are also certain things that feel too convenient or smell a little of deus ex machina, and the last thirty pages of the book don’t seem to wrap up entirely well…
But these issues aside, this is an engaging and intriguing set up, and Dalcher’s own experience in linguistics comes through, building a truly chilling image of just how much a lack of communication would affect the development of young minds.
Dalcher also captures the fear and confusion in Donald Trump’s America, at a time when each passing day seems to reveal more and more absurd ideas and bizarre new rules. At times it verges towards Dalcher’s depiction here which, while extreme, is not something on can deem as totally impossible.
Some readers might ask why we would want to be reading stories of this ilk with all that’s going on in the world, but within the story itself we find examples of the troubles that can come from looking away, and let’s face it, there’s a certain therapeutic release in having these fears painted in such a stark and extreme way.
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