Friday, March 2, 2018

Review: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Red Clocks
by Leni Zumas
Release Date: January 16th 2018
2018 Little, Brown and Company
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0316434812
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro's best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or "mender," who brings all their fates together when she's arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

My Thoughts
Red Clocks is one of those books that I think was supposed to be controversial and a good source for some great discussion, but I don't think it quite succeeded in its intent.  There seemed to be quite a lot of questions being asked such as: If a young woman became pregnant, what are her options in a society that has banned abortion? For a single mother, what are her options in a society that allows only two-parent families to adopt? For a physician who believes it is a person's choice regarding abortion, what happens to them if they are caught? And if a person chooses to use alternative medicine, what are the repercussions for both practitioner and client?  And while the questions are great, I don't really feel as if the consequences that came about in this book really made much of an impact on me.

First of all, abortion is still such a touchy subject in a lot of countries and is outright banned in quite a few, so the real impact of this Personhood Amendment in this novel guaranteeing the right of embryos was not as strong as it could have been.  I think I was more upset of the loss of in-vitro fertilization than I was over the other issue and very much empathized with Ro who was trying to have a baby despite some medical issues.  As a single mother, she would have been excluded from being to adopt on her own as the new law coming into effect bans single parents from adopting, and apparently is a jailable offense to do it under the table.  There was even, at one point, an attempt from a doctor to suggest that Ro go abroad and adopt but he could have been jailed if he recommended that outright.  

The whole concept in this novel was brilliant considering the political climates surrounding the issues, and even the idea of a Pink Wall between Canada and the U.S. was brilliant as it also echoes some of the political climate.  The Pink Wall was an agreement between the two countries that Canada would return any U.S. citizen attempting to have an abortion or IVF treatments in Canada, where it was still legal.  Where the concept really failed in my opinion, was in the writing.  I couldn't get past some of the structures as they were written which made me lose my interest and then my empathy towards the characters.  While the author was trying to be really creative, I do think one can go too far, and this is a good example of  a story being lost in the format.  Which was a shame as the concept was intriguing.  I also really think that such a personal topic needs to involve the reader as much as possible and to invest in the characters.  Unfortunately, even the titles of the chapters, titled "The Wife", "The Daughter", "The Mentor", and "The Biographer" didn't help the situation.  While I do think the idea was on purpose, I think it was a mistake as this is not a topic where you want to be distant and apathetic towards the characters, which is how I felt.  I wanted to be embroiled in their turmoil, their disgust, their panic and so on, but I wasn't.  And I really disliked The Wife who was lazy, self-centered, and really, really annoying, and who was a character that really didn't fit into the story line. If she had been removed from the story, I don't think it would have made any difference to the story.

Red Clocks had such a fantastic premise that I was excited to read this.  Unfortunately, it didn't live up to what I think it was trying to get across.  First of all, due to the way it was written, I didn't feel much empathy for any of the characters and didn't really care what the consequences of their actions were; in other words, it had no real heart and soul.  I should have felt deeply troubled by this new law, but there wasn't anything really revelatory in this story, so while it did make me think, there was no shock value.  I'm not sure I would recommend this one, but as always, you need to judge for yourself.


  1. It sounds like the author was more caught up in the agenda than in the storytelling.