Never has a book made me vomit. I’ve been made queasy (thanks Margaret Atwood), angry, and sleepy (looking at you, Owen King and dad); once I cried, twice if you count the education psychology textbook that cost a lot of allowance and seemed to be written in early Aramaic. But no vomiting. I considered myself made of sterner stuff, I suppose.
It’s the things Christina Dalcher doesn’t say, not so ironically, both through her descriptions and through Dr. Jean McClellan, Dalcher’s narrator and linguistically brilliant stand-in in Vox, that brought the bile up a few times before it couldn’t be held back. Two days, full retail standard shifts of reading and reeling, with the bathroom garbage pail nearby and I could put Vox down again, back on the shelf. I told myself I didn’t have to be scared anymore, or angry, or sickened, or frightened, or terrified or edge-of-my-seat incensed any longer. Dalcher’s vision of a near future America, shredded by Trumpism and left vulnerable to Christian religious extremism and its racist, homophobic and markedly sexist children, lounges like an alert and predatory crocodile in the cracks between her sentences, secret meetings and clandestine conversations, ready to pull unwary readers under the water in its jaws permanently. Perhaps it's the bleeding-edge modernity of this twenty-first-century Handmaid’s Tale, or the compelling characters and readability, that scares the wits out of you. Even after it was back precariously on the shelf, Vox left me wrung out as a reader and emptied out physically as a woman and a human. I had to get rid of it. That copy. Not indefinitely of course. But there are so many others who need to read it—now!—with a sick bag for their discomfort if necessary: young women, new women, teenage girls and teenage boys, young men, old men, dowager empresses of generations past, Americans, Canadians, humans. To read it, and then to shout as loud as they can. Over and over again.
Joelle Tymchuk grew up all over Alberta, in small towns and big cities, and now lives near Edmonton where she teaches junior high English Language Arts and Japanese as a second language. She enjoys her story infusions via novels and Netflix, comic books and cereal boxes. Her story “Last Born” appeared in The Fiddlehead no. 280 (Summer 2019).