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 to speak 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.
a quick google search will show that women speak an average of 20,000 words per day. so imagine if you were limited to only 100.
pretty unfathomable thought, right? that is exactly why i love dystopian novels. they are the most effective at taking me outside of my bubble, placing me in an unfamiliar situation and making me really think, ‘what would i do if this was me?’ this book raises so many important and relevant questions in regards to female rights and equality, the role of religion in government, and the right to speech/language development. the premise and core themes of this book are extremely thought-provoking. as a thought piece, this book deserves all the stars.
but as a novel, i cant give this more than three. the writing in this is very clinical and straightforward. dalcher doesnt write like an author, she writes like a scientist. which isnt surprising considering her profession as a linguistics researcher. that sure came in handy as the majority of the plot focuses on the main characters job as a linguistics researcher (write what you know, eh?). but i couldnt find any sort of flow, character development, fleshing out of plot ideas, no sort of voice or depth. everything felt very two-dimensional, very surface level. i mean, the ideas were there (and they were fantastic ideas) but the execution left much to be desired.
i would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a dystopian book that will plant a little seed of thought into their brain, but just dont expect too much from this in regards to storytelling.
↠ 3 stars
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 ability 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
This novel depicts a chilling dystopia, or as Mike Pence might call it: a visionary blue print for America. Women are limited to speaking only 100 words per day and “immoral” behavior results in hard labor concentration camps. The author does a great job of setting up the world with thinly veiled references to our current political climate. There is a clear message to receive: if you don’t speak out, someday someone will take away your voice. Either figuratively or literally.
After the initial setup, the story transitions more into a typical race against time thriller. Unfortunately that’s where I also started to lose interest. The premise is fantastic, but the espionage was cheesy and not particularly well written. For one the cast of villains aren’t bombastic enough or interesting enough. There’s an evil minister who goes around punishing people but he felt hokey and his position didn’t always make sense.
Overall: what probably started as a symbolic anti-Trump rant turned into surprisingly effective allegorical fiction. I wish the author had spent more time on the final third of the book, though, because it left a lot to be desired. Still a solid, quick read that kept me turning the pages.
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.
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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"Be teachers of good things; teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands."
"Woman has no call to the ballot-box, but she has a sphere of her own.... she is the divinely appointed guardian of the home... she should more fully realise that her position as a wife and mother... is the holiest, most responsible; dismiss all ambition for anything higher, as there is nothing else here so high for mortals."
This is the world for women living in America after a newly elected president shakes up the entire culture. This is what has happened to America after an all-right christian fundamentalist group has taken over.
Under the influence of a "pure" movement, women are fitted with "bracelets" that count how many words they speak in a day. Women are allowed a maximum of 100 words a day and are given severe consequences if they speak over this. They are not allowed to read, or to write or to sign. This is a society where women are completely stripped of their rights to work, to speak out, and to their own autonomy. In addition, women who 'fornicate' with men outside of marriage and engage in pre-marital relations are first punished publicly... heads badly shaved, grey smocks and publicly branded as "sluts" and "whores" by those from their communities. These poor women are then sent to convents for hard labour and have their "bracelets" at zero words a day... leaving them completely without a voice.
Dr Jean McClellan is a witness to all of this and experiences the harsh changes to society. She herself, as an expert in neuro-linguistics, knows the importance of language in the development of children's brains. She witnesses how the "pure" movement was slowly introduced into schools, changing the way young people think and behave; she witnesses how her daughter barely speaks anymore in fear of the consequences. She realises this needs to change, but without a voice, where can she begin?
This book teaches the importance of using your voice, women's representation in government and society needing to be noticed, the need for equality across the board, otherwise, if voices aren't used, change can hardly happen. This book offers a stark reality of what might happen without women's voices, without protest or discussion, or without those protesting on women's behalf.... something Dr Jean McClellan faces first hand.
"You have no idea ladies. No goddamned idea. We're on a slippery slide to prehistory girls. Think about it...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."
The thing about this book that really got me was the unfairness of it all: concentration camps for those who identify as part of the LGBT+ community; convents for women who speak out or have extra-marital affairs/pre-marital relations (note: these punishments did not extend to men); the cutting of women's placement at universities and the teaching of only basic arithmetic, christian religion (and only the fundamentalist aspect of it) and home economics for girls. The frightening part is how a society is easily brain washed into thinking the "pure" movement is the only truth and there can be no resistance or critique, something Dr Jean McClellan faces when she's afraid her own son might report her.
This novel was a completely compelling and unputdownable novel! It is disturbing and an uncomfortable read and will leave you thinking: What if ? It also questions the reader to evaluate themselves as to how they use their own voice... or if they use it at all.
I'm giving this 3.5 stars as some parts of the plot I found were not developed enough (eg some characters and events in the book) and left those parts feeling rather random and short-lived when you want to know more, or characters reacted in a way that was atypical of certain situations. Also, while I really enjoyed the very scientific parts of the novel (I've done modules on neuroscience, language and cognitive psychology so it was easy for me to follow and relish in this re-learning experience) I can understand why this aspect may not be appealing to others as some parts were very science heavy.
"We are called as women to keep silence and to be under obedience. If we must learn, let us ask our husbands in the closeness of the home, for it is shameful that a woman question God-ordained male leadership."