One March evening I was drunk at a house party in East London, and I got talking to a couple of guys about literature and pop culture. After establishing my love for dystopian feminist fiction and prattling on about The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh, one of them asked if I’d read Vox by Christina Dalcher. Embarrassed, I had to admit it was on my shelf but lay untouched. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to read it, it was that I was putting other literature on my bookshelves first. This was a mistake, and I wish I’d picked Vox up sooner.
Set it an alternative future America, Vox tells the story of Jean McLellan, a woman with four children and a celebrated career as a researcher studying aphasia, who lives in a world where the Pure movement has taken over the White House, and woman are to be seen and not heard, literally. Every woman and girl in the country has been fitted with a bracelet that counts how many words they speak a day, and if they hit 100, they start getting powerful electric shocks. Jean’s son is a true believer, having been brainwashed by a course he’s taking at high school, and her husband is a scientific advisor to the president, and has absolutely no opinions whatsoever. The action truly begins when the President’s brother is injured and needs a cure for his aphasia. Cue Jean.
The world Dalcher has created in Vox is one of complete sexist lunacy. Women can’t vote, can’t read, can’t write and can barely speak. While we’ve been seeing the rise of the feminist speculative novel, kicked off by the ever-popular (and truly amazing) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Vox is a fresh take on the dystopian worlds we may one day suffer through as women, and one that’s written in a very digestible way. Dalcher has managed to explain this high-concept narrative through subtle and easily-understandable prose. It’s completely compelling and disturbing to the point where I became completely sucked into Dalcher’s world. It feels real. The one qualm I do have with Vox is that it came very abruptly to the end, and that end seemed rushed and almost as though it was an afterthought in the plot.
I think what hit me the most about Vox is that I can imagine this world. Maybe it’s the political climate, with a raging misogynistic and racist in the White House and Brexit looking on the horizon – Dalcher even goes as far as to use “Make America Moral Again” as one of the government’s slogans – but this is a world that feel is tangible, as this terrifying alternative future planted roots in a similar political world to our current one. And that is the most terrifying thing of all.