Voxby Christina Dalcher Published 21 Aug 2018
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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.
I have decided to add a disclaimer to my review. The review in it's entirely is below in the spoiler tag. Here are my reasons for the disclaimer:
- I knew that this would be controversial as it touches on a hot button topic. But, responses have become uncomfortable to the point I cringe when I open Goodreads. I know, I know, what did I expect sharing a controversial opinion on social media!? Yeah, I admit I guess I should have seen that coming. But, this review simply shares my opinion on a topic I felt was key to the story. Many people agree, many people don't. That is fine! All opinions welcome! I just don't want to fight about it because I have no desire to change anyone's opinion.
- I have received negative feedback from both sides of my argument! That's right, I picked a hot button topic and managed to annoy people on both sides (that is pretty impressive). I have been told that I missed the point, I am dense, I have lost respect from people, I think I am better than others, etc. I have been unfriended and unfollowed by many. That was 100% not my intention and I want it to stop. In fact, the point of my opinion is that discussions on this topic drives people apart and causes people to hate each other. So, the fact that my review is only promoting negative behavior (in some cases) is sad to me. 🙁
- I am okay with all the 5 star reviews of this book. I am glad many people had a better experience with it than I did. I do not go to the 5 star reviews and try to prove them wrong. Goodreads is all about differing opinions and I embrace that.
-You may notice that this review has lots of comments. If you have a criticism of my review, it most likely been discussed ad nauseum so I encourage you to look through the comments first. "That I missed the point", "The book did not say 'All' people of a certain group", "Don't you understand what the political climate is in America right now?", etc. - all have been covered.
- At one point in my review I make a bold statement using the number 99%, after the response I have received from both sides, that number is probably more like 75%
So, feel free to read the review. I am not trying to change anyone's mind. I am just trying to express my opinion as thoroughly as possible, and if you don't agree that is fine. The point of my review is to help stop hate, hurt, and bias, so I do not want my review to contribute to that in any way.
Maybe this is how it happened in Germany with the Nazis, in Bosnia, with the Serbs, in Rwanda with the Hutus. I’ve often wondered about that, how kids can turn into monsters, how they can learn that killing is right and oppression is just, how in one single generation the world can change on its axis into a place that is unrecognizable. Easily, I think, and push out of my chair.Words matter.
If your ideal of womanhood tends toward the Stepford-ish, Vox will present an image of paradise. For the rest of us, it offers a dark vision of a possible future in which the lines between religion of the extremist, fundamentalist sort, and government are not just blurred, but erased. (See Taliban, ISIS, or any of many Christian sects that insist that civil law should be based on the Bible) God knows there are plenty of places in the USA where a large number of folks would be just fine with that, as long as it is the proper religion. Well, probably not the majority of the women. Instead of the saying “Children should be seen but not heard,” substitute females of almost any age for children, and you have the core of this dystopian novel.
Christina Dalcher - image is from her site
Woody Allen’s 1971 film, Bananas, satirized Central American (and American) politics. A deranged leader had let power go to his head and decided to shake things up.
From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. Silence! In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check.There are different lunatics in charge in Vox, but the restrictions are just as insane, if much less amusing. Females are allowed only one hundred words per day. (The official language of American women is silence?) And they will have to wear wrist-band counters that keep track. Exceeding the daily quota results in a painful electrical shock. Run off at the mouth and the punishment becomes deadly. Girls at school are given rewards for speaking the fewest words in a day.
Image from HuffPo
Jean McLellan is a cognitive linguist. She is as shocked as most are by the imposition of outrageous strictures on her, and on all females. Makes it tough not only to do the work for which she was trained, (or, maybe not, as women have been relegated to homemaking, so don’t worry your pretty little head about that whole job thing) but makes it a challenge even to carry on normal human conversations within her family. Her husband, Patrick, is the science advisor to the president, surely a jokey position in a country where science is silenced and faith of a certain sort is given all the bullhorns. But then Jean is approached by representatives of El Presidente. Her professional services are required. It seems the dear leader’s brother had an oopsy while skiing and now has a particularly nasty brain injury, one that impacts his abillty to use language. Jean negotiates a deal, and goes to work. Complications ensue, not least is the presence on the research team of the incompetent rectum who stepped up to leadership when the women were kicked out, and someone from her past. Will they be able to use their scientific super powers for the forces of good, or be bested by the forces of evil?
Image from MissMuslim.com
Yes, it is not a realistic projection of things to come. If millions of women marched in response to the election of Swamp Thing, I seriously doubt that a program like the one presented here would have been instituted as quickly as this one was, or at all. (well, in most states, anyway) The response would, I expect, have been less Lysistrata and more Wonder Woman, with maybe a dose of Medea tossed in. Despite the excesses of our current administration, there are limits beyond which people actually would respond, and actively resist. But the point of the novel is not, clearly, to present a real potential future, but to highlight the importance of speech, of language in personal and political freedom, particularly for women.
Image from Betanews.com
These are notions that merit consideration. Schools in Vox are made to offer AP Religious Studies classes that not only crowd out class time for Biology and History, but omit the comparative element of the study of religions in favor of promoting the religious track favored by those in charge. So, propaganda. This is hardly a huge leap from school systems that insist on teaching that lovely oxymoron, creation science, alongside actual, reality-based, testable science, and pretending equivalence. Similar to the approach of some news providers who seem to think that balance consists of offering equal time to truth-tellers and liars. Linguistics. Language. Call bullshit a rose often enough and weak-minded people will begin to enjoy the scent. (Fake news?) We live in a NewSpeakian world, so looking at the power of language, or words and how they are used and controlled offers considerable insight into the non-science-fiction reality we currently inhabit. It is also of note how those words and notions are so often internalized. (I’d been fighting to keep the weight down ever since my last pregnancy.) It seems the norm, sadly, for those in power to want to silence those who object, whatever their gender. Colin Kaepernick knows, and I remember well the cries of Vietnam war supporters who regarded opposition as treason. America, love it or leave it!
Image from Yomyomf.com
Dalcher offers examples of how language denigrates women in common parlance, without getting all, you know, hormonal about it. Jean’s husband refers to her outings with friends as “hen parties.” Her son, Steven, sees an activist on television protesting the demise of freedom and suggests “She needs to pop a chill pill.” Familiar, no? The religious nuts running this show incorporate anti-gay bias into their new world order as well, making what they consider aberrant behavior a criminal act. (stifling half the population would not be considered aberrant here) Back in the real world, as of 2014 there were still 17 states in which laws against certain sorts of sex by consenting adults were still on the books, so this is not even a small stretch. The chastity movement in the book is based on real-world insanity as well. There was
…a late 19th-century/early 20th-century movement in America called the Cult of Domesticity, “The idea was to go back to Biblical roles, to separate men and women,” [Dalcher] says, explaining that women were expected to conform in four ways; piety, purity, submission and domesticity. She adds that there is a modern version of the Cult of Domesticity active in the US right now; the True Woman movement, part of a larger religious campaign called Revive Our Hearts. - From the Bookseller interviewVox is very much in line with the current boom in feminist dystopia novels and with those of the past as well. What pops to mind are The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, wonderfully realized in the Hulu series, Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God, Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke, and, of course, Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives. There are plenty more, but these are the ones I have read.
image from Wikimedia
Dalcher brings to her novel a background in science. She is a theoretical linguist, with a strong concern with how language affects development. What would women become after a few generations of bearing the yoke of silence? Is it ok to train your daughters to become, essentially, pets that double as sexual vessels? Dalcher’s love of things Italian is given a voice here, as Jean’s parents are living in Italy, where Jean has spent considerable time, and a major character is Italian.
The story moves along at a nice pace, making this a pretty fast read. It is engaging and stress-inducing, in a good way. But I found the resolution even more unlikely than the underlying notion. If tight plotting is your thing, you will probably be disappointed. But then this is not, IMHO, about the action-adventure element, as entertaining as that is. It is a warning about the cost of silence, and how not speaking up now can shut you up later, to the detriment, not only of yourself, but of generations to come.
Image from HappyGeek.com
Before the craziness becomes implemented policy, Jean is warned by her erstwhile bff, a prescient activist, about the coming madness, particularly the massive importance of voting, and participating in political action like calling one’s representatives, or showing up for marches. ”Think about what you need to do to stay free,” she says. It’s good advice.
Use your words.
Review posted – June 1 ,2018
Publication – August 21, 2018
Berkley provided an advance review copy, but shhhhh, don’t tell anyone.
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Instagram, and FB pages
Other work by the author
-----The Things I Learned About Swans
There are scads more on her site
-----May 11, 2018 - Bookseller
-----from Time magazine
-----Language Log – on the truth about the difference between how many words men and women speak per day - An Invented Statistic Returns
My reviews can also be seen at: https://deesradreadsandreviews.wordpr...
As soon as I read the description for this novel, I knew it was a book I HAD to read.
I’m often running to Google for one thing or another when I’m reading a thought-provoking book. But this time, I was Googling things before I even had the novel in hand. The first thing I had to know was how many words the average person speaks in a day. Google told me:
The average woman speaks 20,000 words a day. The average man speaks 7,000 words a day.
Imagine that you are only allowed to speak 100 words in a day...
In VOX people in the United States are given a 100 word per day limit. But NOT everyone is given this limit....just the female population. They wear a counter on their wrist to keep track of how many words they speak. If they go over the 100 word limit…they pay a painful price. What happens if people try to communicate in other ways such as writing things down or using sign language? Well, let’s just say it’s not something they want to find out.
Words shouted out in passion, in anger, in a child's nightmare – IT ALL COUNTS!!
They are kept a prisoner in their own country. Some people fled to places like Canada, Mexico in the beginning, but now there's no escaping.
Dr. Jean McClellan is/was a cognitive linguist but now…
“I’ve become a woman of few words”
Jean's husband, Patrick reminds her with a tap on her counter that she only has a few words left for the day. The counter will reset at midnight. Her husband and sons have to remember to ask close-ended questions to Jean and her daughter, six-year-old, Sonia. Her sons are eleven and they have seen what happens if more words are spoken. There are times where she’s irrationally angry at her husband and sons.
“I don’t hate them. I tell myself I don’t hate them. But sometimes I do”
When Jean attended university her friend, Jackie tried to warn them. She told them to 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.”
But now THEY need Jean's help, her expertise. At first, she tells them she won’t help them, but then they make her another offer….one she doesn’t know if she can refuse.
Will Jean help those who are responsible for the position she’s in? The position ALL women and girls are in?
I FLEW through this novel. Although it made me incredibly angry at times, I was hooked. Some things I would find over the top one minute and terrifyingly possible the next.
A fascinating storyline with well-developed characters and an ending that I didn’t see coming.
In my opinion, "Vox" is a thought-provoking, excellent read.
I'd like to thank Berkley Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.
Okay, this was bad.
The premise is really intriguing and I would love to read about it in a BETTER book.
I expected a good dystopian set up that deals with sexism.. What I got is a weird thriller that KIND OF addressed that topic. I don't even really know how to explain it.
First of all, the "showdown" was way too fast and there was little to no build up at all. It was unrealistic and everything was solved way too easily. I didn't even really understand what was going on because it was so quick and all over the place?
The characters were boring and completely flat. This definitely should be a book that goes into depth with the feelings and thoughts of its characters, but it failed big time.
But what annoyed me the most was the more or less subtle sexism towards men. Hey, I totally understand that one would start to despise the other gender if it was the reason why you're being oppressed and not allowed to talk or work.
But that wasn't really the case here. It were more things like "he's not a real man because he wouldn't beat up someone for spitting on his car" or "All boys like to blow things up" Wtf? Imagine a man would say "Oh you're not a real woman because you don't wear makeup" or "All girls like to play with dolls" EVERYONE WOULD LOSE THEIR SHIT. Which is something they should do, because it's bullshit but don't do the exact same thing to the opposite gender then! Double standards are really stupid. Seriously. Please stop.
PS: Someone pointed out to me that in the end A MAN comes and saves the day. How weird is that in a book that's about feminism and empowerment of women?
These days my country consists of states united in hate. At its helm is a man-child. A bully consumed by power, lacking intellect, as well as being morally and ethically deficient. So while the premise of Vox is extreme it doesn’t seem far-fetched. The severe subjugation of women by the angry, white patriarchy is portrayed at its most monstrous. A counter worn by women allows them to speak when spoken to and then only minimally. Once the allotted one hundred words per day are spent, negative reinforcement is administered to the offending female in the form of a painful shock. Other than these few words, women are not allowed any other form of communication: no email, snail mail, books, pens, or internet access. And, nonverbal communication is not permitted which is monitored by surveillance cameras. The gay community is relegated to working farms (concentration camps), a teenage son is indoctrinated into the tenets of male supremacy and a six year old daughter’s words vanish. This dystopian novel deftly handles politics of all stripes; gender, sexual, domestic and, to a lesser degree, racial and international. Gone are the days of inclusion, tolerance and attempts at harmony. Oh wait! We’re sort of there, aren’t we?
oooh, goodreads choice awards semifinalist for best science fiction 2018! what will happen?
What do they study now, our girls? A bit of addition and subtraction, telling time, making change. Counting, of course. They would learn counting first. All the way up to one hundred.
as a thought-piece, i would give this a high four stars, but as a novel, it’s got some structural flaws. it would be a very good book club choice, however - plenty of food for thought and discussion. it just needs some conceptual tightening; it’s missing that extra spark that would bring it all up into “amazing debut” territory.
the basic premise is straightforward: it’s a near-future dystopia in which white christian conservative male fundies have come to power and figured out how to keep all of us hysterical, mouthy women down - a metal “word counter” shackled around the female wrist that delivers an electric shock, of increasing intensity, for every word spoken that exceeds a woman’s daily allotment of 100. along with that, all typical dysto-rules apply: homosexuals are imprisoned until they come around and choose heterosexuality, premarital and extramarital sex has heavy consequences (for women), women aren’t allowed to read or write or work or use birth control or even collect the mail from their own mailboxes, and cameras are everywhere making sure these rules are followed.
this book is two things - it’s a cautionary tale about noninvolvement/nonparticipation, about ignoring the signs and the trends until it’s too late, and it’s also an author with a doctorate in theoretical linguistics having herself a “what if” party about excising language from 1/2 of the population.
it’s telling the story it wants to tell, and that’s not the story of “how this happens.” that’s touched upon, sure, it’s not altogether absent, but it’s not a priority. this takes place about a year after the laws go into effect, and things have happened quickly. there are lots of questions left unanswered because again - the hows and the details are not the concern here. i’m not sure what rules apply to deaf women, but i know that hearing women are not allowed to use any sign language to supplement their daily word-allotment. i’m also not sure what is determining or tabulating these word counts - at one point, the main character has one word left in her quota, and she speaks it to her daughter, “Goodnight,” which i would have counted as two words. and what about hyphenates? acronyms? there must be workarounds. but those are my concerns and what i would address if i were writing this book, but i am too lazy so i don’t get to bitch about an author not answering every question i have as a reader.
what i found most interesting was the effect upon the children. (former) cognitive linguist/wife/mother/first person narrator jean mclellan has four children: eleven-year-old twin boys, a son about to graduate from high school, and a six-year-old daughter. the twins are barely present, but the youngest and oldest are better-developed, in how they respond to these regulations, how they are changed. it’s very effective and horrifying to see a little girl adjust and apply herself enthusiastically to the rules, as though it were a game, and to see a young man embrace his role of privileged enforcer.
the weaknesses are mostly in the conflict resolutions. many of them are overcome too easily, too neatly. personal ones, like what i will call ‘patrick’s acquiescence’ and scientific ones like what i will call, ummm ‘look at the science i did just now.’ oh, and ‘final face-off,’ too. the blocking on that is still a bit muddled to me.
it’s a solid debut definitely worth reading, it’s just not a big shiny five-star MUST READ!
an interesting aside - although this was written before the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale aired, there are more than a few details that pop up in both. neither of them make the future look super-rosy. for anyone.
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