If I had to describe Vox in one word, I would choose the word “wobbly.” The concept behind Dalcher’s full-length debut is compelling, but her execution is shaky and, at times, sloppy. I wanted to love Vox because its premise seems so timely and unique, but the intriguing narrative suffered at the hands of writing that felt unskilled and confusing.
Vox, from the Latin “voice”, is the story of scientist-turned-housewife Dr. Jean McClellan. She lives a near-future United States, which has adopted radical Biblical ideas about women and family structure. Women no longer work, cannot own property or vote, must live with a male relative, and can only speak 100 words per day. Dalcher’s society feels extraordinarily timely after recent abortion bans in Alabama and “heartbeat bills” in states such as Georgia. As a young woman, these bills terrify me, and I can only imagine what future restrictions on my freedom may look like. For this reason, I was so excited to follow Jean’s story as she grapples with her new, restrained reality.
One stellar aspect of Vox was how the story focused on impassivity, especially Jean’s, as a reason for the new restrictions on women’s rights. Jean constantly recalls telling her pushy roommate that she can’t make it to marches, protests, phone banks, or even voting booths, because she has more important tasks, like neurology homework, to accomplish. Only after she suffers dramatic repercussions does Jean realize the error of her ways and work to change them by rebelling in the present. I have not been as vocal about abortion rights as I should be, so this storyline served as a compelling call for action on my part. If I don’t speak up now, maybe next time I won’t get the chance to.
Unfortunately, this plot point was one strong piece in a sea of much weaker ones. There were so many extraneous subplots that were not adequately fleshed out, making for a narrative that felt convoluted overall. I wish the relationship between Jean and her radicalized son Steven was focused on more and her relationship with Lorenzo, her brooding Italian lab partner, was cut out all together. What purpose did he serve other than being a source of constant lust?
Additionally, Vox‘s ending blew by at a dizzying speed. In the last fifty pages (spoilers!), Jean is seriously injured by a gorilla, discovers a government conspiracy, stops the conspiracy, discovers that everyone she thought was loyal to the government was actually a rebel and is trying to help her, finds her long lost roommate, reunites with her son, flees to Canada, and takes a vacation in Italy, where no one in her family seems concerned with the fact that she is pregnant with a baby that is not their father’s. Seriously?
I want to attribute this clumsy conclusion to the fact that Dalcher is a scientist. Like her protagonist, she is a linguist. Because of her scientific background, she writes clinically and intelligently. The strongest points in Vox are when Jean lectures her kids on why animals can’t have a language, and when she fawns over MRI machines in her lab. But, when it comes to storytelling outside the scientific realm, Dalcher falls short.
I wish my review of Vox was more positive, because I feel like the story is one that should be told. But, thanks to sloppy, rushed storytelling, I don’t believe Dalcher is the right person to tell it.