cover image Vox


Christina Dalcher. Berkley, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-440-00078-5

In her provocative debut, linguist Dalcher imagines a near future in which speech and language—or the withholding thereof—are instruments of control. The election of a conservative president with a charismatic (and psychotic) religious advisor is merely the final straw in a decades-long trend toward repression and authoritarianism. For years, cognitive linguist Jean McClellan, a well-educated white woman, chose to immerse herself in academia rather than become politically active, even as signs of authoritarianism were proliferating. Now, however, a year after the election, women in the United States have been limited to speaking no more than 100 words per day or face painful consequences. When the President’s brother suffers an accident that affects his brain’s speech centers, Jean might be able to leverage her expertise to restore her status. Dalcher’s narrative raises questions about the links between language and authority; most chilling is the specter of young girls being starved of language and, consequently, the capacity to think critically. The novel’s muddled climax and implausible denouement fail to live up to its intriguing premise. Nevertheless, Dalcher’s novel carries an undeniably powerful message. (Aug.)