I requested this audiobook by Christina Dalcher from my library on a whim. I had seen it around, and although I hadn’t heard much about it, the concept seemed interesting enough for me to want to check it out.
This audiobook initially gave me a bit of whiplash because the narrator is Julia Whelan, who also narrated Catwoman: Soulstealer, which I listened to right before listening to this one, so that required some adjusting because I had come to think of her voice as belonging to Selina Kyle, but suddenly she was speaking for this other, very different character. Julia Whelan is a fantastic narrator and I highly recommend her, it’s just that it feels weird when you get two audiobooks in a row narrated by the same person.
The main character is Dr. Jean McClellan, a former scientist with a degree in neurolinguistic researcher who used to study Wernicke’s aphasia. According to Jean, Wernicke’s aphasia is when people lose the ability to communicate because it involves the destruction of the part of the brain that processes language.
In reality, Wernicke’s area is just one of two parts of the brain that deal with speech: Wernicke’s area is responsible only for the comprehension of speech, meaning people afflicted with Wernicke’s aphasia can’t comprehend what’s said to them, but they can communicate their own thoughts and feelings just fine.
Broca’s area is the part of the brain that deals with production of speech. Destruction of this part of the brain results in people losing the ability to communicate with language. They can speak, but it will be random words that don’t form coherent sentences – but they have no problem understanding what’s said to them.
Dalcher combined these two into one awful disease in which people can neither understand what’s said to them nor form coherent sentences. As someone with a degree in psychology, it always bugs me when authors get these things wrong because they didn’t bother to do a simple Google search.
Anyway, so in this dystopia where there’s only one part of the brain that regulates both comprehension and production of speech, Jean had been working on a cure for her version of Wernicke’s aphasia, and they were really close when a new administration was elected to the White House that promptly stripped women of all their rights – including their right to hold a job, to have a bank account, to live alone without a husband or male relative, to read or write, to access the internet, or even speak more than 100 words a day. They’re all required to wear counters on their wrists that count each word they speak and provide shocks for every word they speak after 100. The shocks get worse the more words they speak after 100.
If you’re thinking people can mouth words or use sign language, think again. One of the first things the administration did was install cameras everywhere and any women caught communicating nonverbally are quickly made to disappear.