Vox, by Christina Dalcher
In Christina Dalcher’s debut novel, it has been less than two years since ultra-conservative President Dyer has taken up occupancy in the White House, and Jean McLellan marvels at the swiftness of the change in her circumstances: prior to President Dyer’s election she was a respected Doctor of Neurolinguistics, juggling career, marriage and children with varying degrees of success, the same as most women; now it has been decreed by Dyer’s new religious advisor that she stay at home 24/7, attending to the needs of her family ‘as all women should’. Her computer and passport are gone, locked in her husband’s study; he also has the key to the mailbox – not that she receives any mail; all letters are addressed to him. TV coverage is sparse; cooking programs rule, as do ‘family friendly’ sitcoms, though these are sometimes interrupted by ‘public shamings’ of individuals who have broken the new laws against adultery and fornication: women are the only sinners here and are sent off, heads shaved, to parts unknown for a life of slavery. Those unfortunate enough to be exposed as homosexual share the same fate.
But the worst thing, the most shameful thing, is the bracelet. The bracelet is a thin band that all women must wear around their left wrist. It counts the words that are said: if a woman utters more than 100 words a day she receives an electric shock so severe that it burns. If she starts ranting against the injustice of it all, the bracelet is capable of incinerating her hand. Even the president’s wife, a former model, (sound familiar?) is not immune: Jean watches her on TV, silently attending a function, remote and beautiful as always, bracelet exactly matching her outfit. Her eyes are dead.
Until … until the president’s elder brother and chief adviser sustains a major brain injury in a ski accident. Prior to the new laws giving all women’s jobs (except the menial ones) to men, Jean and her team were involved in an exciting new experiment to repair aphasia in stroke and injury victims, restoring speech and lucidity – which the president’s brother now lacks: suddenly Jean’s former scientific expertise is vital. For the duration of ‘the cure’ her bracelet will be removed and she has freedom of movement.
But she also has a lover. And she is pregnant. Two secrets that could send her into slavery in a heartbeat, not to mention another one she has discovered: a resistance movement that could get them all killed.
This powerful story has echoes of ‘1984’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’; it is an intelligent, chillingly real portrait of what could happen in a society where fear and hatred have an unassailable hold on people’s hearts and minds. Great stuff. FIVE STARS.