In Dalcher’s America, something sinister has happened to the women – they have been silenced. Worse than that, the government torture them with a teasing allocation of one hundred words a day, with horrific consequences if they don’t adhere to the rules. Women are not free to be individuals in this dystopian world, but must live ordinary lives being dutiful wives and mothers only. Jean McClellan’s hard earned doctorate is now worth nothing, until one day she is given the chance to make a change.
With a plot reminiscent of some of the greats, such as The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984, I thought I was going to be in for a literary treat. However, I was left feeling slightly disappointed upon completion. My main issue was the pacing, which felt extremely rushed, as though the author was facing a looming deadline. We spent a great deal of time in Jean’s head, but I felt I still didn’t know her very well at the end. It seemed as though we were hurtling towards the conclusion, with very few explanations as to why certain events were happening, how they came about, or how each character felt about them. To summarise my feelings, there was little character development, and whilst I understand this may have been to reflect how the women in the book were unable to develop due to restrictions, I feel the main character, at least, could have been developed more, considering she could express herself for a large portion of the novel.
Furthermore, Jean was a rather judgemental character, constantly criticising the people around her, despite being engaged in a long term affair and considering leaving her children behind. She consistently returns to her husband’s seeming lack of bravery and uses it as an excuse to continue being unfaithful, which for me, makes her a hypocrite. I see that these aspects of her personality may have been an attempt to make her seem more human, but it made it somewhat difficult for me to gel with her at times.
A further criticism I have of the plot is that it seems far too convenient, especially towards the end. I highly doubt all of the events that occur towards the conclusion would have happened as smoothly in real life. Every single plot point happens exactly as it needs to in order for Jean to be able to swan into the sunset with her lover and her children and live happily ever after, and I feel it simply isn’t realistic. Why go to such an effort to explore what the realities could be if our governments decided women were no longer useful, and then end the book with a massively convenient happy ending? I feel it’s counter-productive in a way, warning people, but then flipping sides and saying everything will be okay if you have an attractive man by your side.
Dalcher did make me feel anger towards some of the male characters in the book, especially Steven, her eldest son and Morgan, the ‘lead’ scientist of the project Jean works on. There are really men out there who hold these beliefs about women, and who desire for women to be completely placid and obedient to men. There are even men out there who like to commit violence towards women. These are scary thoughts, and the book does make you sit and think, which is important in a time when the political world is turbulent and democracies are no longer practicing democracy. Her writing certainly isn’t awful, but it does have some clinical qualities, with less description than I would personally like and I found this sometimes created a jolting feeling and brought me out of the novel slightly.
Overall, I was quite disappointed, as the plot had a huge amount of potential, but rapidly went downhill for me. On the other hand, if you are someone who prefers a straight to the point writing style over a flowery, descriptive one, this could be for you. Had the ending not been so convenient, I may have enjoyed it more, and people who prefer a happy ending may absolutely love it, so don’t let me put you off if you are one of those people.