Imagine a world where every word matters…literally. You have a daily limit of 100 words and this limit is monitored through a bracelet locked around your wrist. If you go over your 100-word limit, a painful, electric shock courses through your body. If you continue to speak, each subsequent shock is more painful than the last. So what horrible is this used as a punishment? Being born a female.
The world of Vox echoes many of the same plot points as The Handmaid’s Tale: an extremist religious group takes over the government quickly and shuts down the rights and freedoms of the female population. Birth control is outlawed. Women are forced to leave their jobs and all acts of reading are illegal. In THT, women could’t even drive although this is allowed in the Vox universe. Mail can only be delivered to the male head of household (women don’t have keys to their own family’s mailbox). All passports, reading materials, and electronic devices are taken away from women and locked by their husbands. Recipe books, pens, paper, magnets with words- all gone. The husbands also control the key to the word-counting device on their wives’ wrists. Adulterous women are sent to work farms in the western US and their wrist counters are set to zero (they can’t talk at all). All women are forced to live with their closest male relative. If a woman has no male relative she is forced into a life of prostitution, serving the desires of the male populace (married and single). LGBTQ individuals are sent to prison camps and never heard from again. When a woman is caught breaking the law, her head is shaved, and she is publicly shamed on national television before she is shipped off to a work camp. Government surveillance of the citizens is amped up in an attempt to catch women trying to subvert the rules through nonverbal forms of communication. Girls’ education is focused on math and home economics, “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 spellin. Not literature. Not a voice” (2).
Dr. Jean McClellan silently chafes at these rules but her new world is unexpectedly turned upside down when the US President personally asks for her help in finding a cure for his brother after his brother suffered extensive brain damage in a skiiing accident. Dr. McClellan is a sociolinguist specializing in finding a cure for stroke victims’s speech loss in the Wernicke’s area of the brain. In exchange for her research time, Dr. McClellan gets to experience bits of her old life: work in the lab, no wrist counter, reading, and use of her laptop. Unfortunately, she and her team have a tight deadline and they are constantly watched by government agents. Of course, the government wants Dr. McClellan’s research and cure for more than the president’s brother…
This book started out as five stars for me but I ended up downgrading it to four stars. While I enjoyed the quick plot and short chapters, I felt the ending was rushed and I was very disappointed when a major moment of comeuppance happened off the page. At first all the men in the book are portrayed as weenies or jerks, but eventually a few allies appear in the plot. One of the members of my book club didn’t like how the book portrayed only kind of Christian (the controlling, extremist kind) without also including some moderate Christians that were against these new laws. Due to the quick nature of the book, there were some unanswered questions for me:
A whole nation of men let the government install wrist counters on their wives and there were no protests from the male citizens?
If nonverbal communication between women was forbidden, what happened to deaf women? In one scene, Dr. McClellan sees two mothers and their toddlers communicating in a made up sign language. The women and children were promptly whisked away, never to be seen again.
In the Acknowledgments page, the author mentions that she wrote the book in two months. This is an admirable feat since I imagine it’s difficult to write a book in any amount of time, but I wonder if the book could have benefited from a bit more editing to answer those questions and add a bit more detail to the plot.