Skip to main content

Red Clocks

Review

Red Clocks

Leni Zumas’ latest novel, RED CLOCKS, is the scariest and most challenging kind of dystopia --- the kind not set in the distant or strange future, but in the here and now with imaginable and terrible changes to the society in which we live. Here, not only has the clock been turned back on reproductive rights, laws have become even more oppressive. Abortion is once again illegal in all circumstances, as is in vitro fertilization. Single adults are soon to be banned from adopting children. And the sweeping “Personhood Amendment” gives full legal rights to all embryos. Within this restrictive legal and social environment, Zumas offers the interwoven lives of five women in a small Oregon town.

"The writing in RED CLOCKS is as lovely as its narrative is heartbreaking. Zumas has a wonderful command of the language; her phrasing and descriptions are sometimes humorous, always keen and occasionally downright brutal."

Ro, a local teacher and the biographer of an obscure 19th-century Faroese polar explorer, wants nothing more than to have a baby. Single and in her 40s, she is having trouble conceiving with the legal means available to her. In just days the law will change, and she will not be able to adopt a child on her own. Like the biography she is writing, her dreams of motherhood are stalling and faltering. She finds herself jealous of her friend Susan’s life with her two young children. But, unbeknownst to all those who know her, Susan is unhappy in her marriage and worn down by the stresses and strain of parenting. The secret pregnancy of Mattie, one of Ro’s best students, gives Ro a glimmer of hope. What if she can adopt that baby?

Mattie, however, wants nothing more than to terminate her pregnancy. It is a risky choice, one that could land her in prison or result in her death from a botched procedure. Even the imprisonment of her best friend for an abortion doesn’t deter the teen from pursuing the same. Mattie visits Gin, who is referred to as a mender, for the herbs she needs. Gin is a solitary and strange herbalist who lives with her animals on the outskirts of town. Though she prefers being alone, she has suffered loss that infuses her life with sorrow. And, just like in too many historic moments, when the town needs a scapegoat to blame for the unexplainable, Gin is accused of witchcraft.

Over the course of the novel, each woman is challenged to examine her identity, her needs, her beliefs, and her stance in a world where her biology is suspect and her body is not under her own control. Zumas moves among the perspectives of the biographer, the mender, the daughter, the wife, and Eivør Mínervudottír, who lived, childless and single, on the Faroe Islands until she died tragically on the ice, leaving behind only the scraps of her life that Ro reads in her journals. Each of them is engaging, and though their stories and lives connect, each stands alone as a fully realized character.

The writing in RED CLOCKS is as lovely as its narrative is heartbreaking. Zumas has a wonderful command of the language; her phrasing and descriptions are sometimes humorous, always keen and occasionally downright brutal. This is the rare sort of novel that is difficult to read yet is hard to put down. Zumas does not shy away from confronting the oppression her characters face or the damage it inflicts. RED CLOCKS is politically charged and emotionally powerful. Beyond that, it is a fantastically enjoyable and totally provocative read.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on February 2, 2018

Red Clocks
by Leni Zumas

  • Publication Date: January 16, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316434817
  • ISBN-13: 9780316434812