What I Was Reading:
Vox by Christina Dalcher was a two-sitting read for me. Once I started this suspenseful, fast-paced thriller I didn’t want to put it down. Vox depicts a United States where women have been silenced by the President’s decision to limit them to only 100 words per day. Every woman and girl is forced to wear a word counter that provides a shock when the daily quota has been reached.
Early in the novel, the narrator, Dr. Jean McLellan, reflects on how things are for her now compared to how they used to be before the word allotment:
This is how things are now: We have allotments of one hundred words a day. My books, even the old copies of Julia Child and—here’s irony—the tattered red-and-white-checked Better Homes and Gardens a friend decided would be a cute joke for a wedding gift, are locked in a cupboard so Sonia can’t get at them. Which means I can’t get at them either. Patrick carries the keys around like a weight, and sometimes I think it’s the heaviness of this burden that makes him look older.
It’s the little stuff I miss most: jars of pens tucked into the corners of every room, notepads wedged in between cookbooks, the dry-erase shopping list on the wall next to the spice cabinet. Even my old refrigerator magnets, the ones Steven used to concoct ridiculous Italo-English sentences with, laughing himself to pieces. Gone, gone, gone. Like my email account.
What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:
• This progression of the paragraphs contrasts how things are now from how they used to be. The descriptions of the “little things” Jean misses paint a picture of the impact of the word allotment.
• The first paragraph matter-of-factly introduces Jean’s current reality with the statement “This is how things are now” followed by a colon. With no build-up or mincing of words, the horrifying situation is laid out in one simple statement of fact: “We have allotments of one hundred words a day.” This is followed by a personal detail that illustrates just what these mean for a woman. Something as commonplace as a cookbook must be kept under lock and key.
• The second paragraph follows the same format to introduce a second list. This time she shares the things she misses in order to contrast her life before the allotment to her life now. Jean makes her current reality clear to us by telling us what it isn’t. The “little stuff” includes the tools for reading and writing—for consuming words—she was once surrounded by but are now forbidden. It is easy to recognize how quickly one could use up an allotment of 100 words.
Possibilities for Writers:
• Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
• Use this format to show a contrast between before and after. For example, writers might show the difference between elementary school and middle school or between Grade 9 to Grade 12 by using the same structure: “This is how things are now” and “It’s the little stuff I miss most.”
• Writers can describe what something is by describing what it is no longer, using specific images to illustrate the point.