Book Reviews

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas


In a dystopian United Stated, Congress passed the Personhood Amendment, which gives a fertilized egg the Constitutional right to life, liberty, and property from the moment of conception. Abortion is illegal. IVF (in vitro fertilization) is banned, and adoptions are soon to be restricted to married couples only. Women who travel to Canada and are suspected of being there in order to get an abortion are sent back to the U.S. for prosecution. The right to choose is a thing of the past.

What I Liked

First, let me mention that the book focuses on the points-of-view of five women:

The Biographer: Ro, a single woman who works as a teacher, and wants to be a mother—IVF attempts failed, and time is running out for her to be able to adopt a child before the new law is enacted.
The Explorer: Eivør Minervudottir, the 19th century woman Ro is writing a book about.
The Mender: Gin, a healer who provides herbal remedies to women in need; people consider her to be a witch.
The Daughter: Mattie, a teenage student of Ro’s, is pregnant and wants to get an abortion.
The Wife: Susan, an unhappy wife and mother of two.

The premise for this story got my attention right away, and I was eager to read it. Dystopia is one of my go-to genres, but I’m particularly intrigued with the books that deal with the oppression of women in some way. This is the first I’ve come across that deals with banning abortions, IVF, and adoption restrictions, and I felt certain this book was going to be absolutely spectacular.

It was interesting, to be sure—some portions more than others—but it fell far short of spectacular in this reader’s opinion.

What I Didn’t Like

I disliked everything having to do with Eivør Minervudottir. I felt impatient and bored every time I read the portions dedicated to this character.

I didn’t feel a connection with any of the characters. I felt sympathy for them sometimes, but I never managed to really care about any of them. That’s something that rarely happens when I’m reading, especially when I’m so excited about the premise of the book.

The way it was written—the choppy prose, inconsequential conversations, and tedious details—prevented the story from having an easy flow. I found myself constantly noticing how brief many of the sentences were, which broke my concentration and forced me to re-read passages I hadn’t focused on properly the first time around. If it had any one of those issues mentioned above, lightly sprinkled into the story, I don’t think it would have bothered me. With so much of it throughout the entire book, however, it proved to be a serious distraction. This sort of writing style may be pleasing to other readers, but it didn’t work for me.

Final Thoughts

I felt this book had great potential, and I wanted to love it. Unfortunately, it never lived up to it. Certain parts were interesting, but my lasting impression of this book is that I was too often distracted by the writing style to be able to connect with any of the characters in a meaningful way. I still think the premise is fantastic, but I’m disappointed that the book didn’t live up to my expectations.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Little, Brown and Company via Netgalley.

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Author: Leni Zumas
Title: Red Clocks
Genre: Dystopia
Publication Date: January 16, 2018 by Little, Brown and Company
Rating: 2.5 stars

About the Book

Five women. One question. What is a woman for?

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.

RED CLOCKS is at once a riveting drama, whose mysteries unfold with magnetic energy, and a shattering novel of ideas. In the vein of Margaret Atwood and Eileen Myles, Leni Zumas fearlessly explores the contours of female experience, evoking THE HANDMAID’S TALE for a new millennium. This is a story of resilience, transformation, and hope in tumultuous-even frightening-times.

About the Author

LENI ZUMAS is the author of RED CLOCKS (Little, Brown, 2018); THE LISTENERS (Tin House, 2012); and FAREWELL NAVIGATOR: STORIES (Open City, 2008). She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she teaches in the MFA program at Portland State University.

7 thoughts on “Red Clocks by Leni Zumas”

  1. It seems like we had completely opposite experiences with this one, as it will be one of my top books of the year. I am sorry it failed to hit the mark for you. Her subtleness worked in the most unsettling way for me here. Always enjoy your thoughts and comparing them!

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    1. I wish I could have had the same experience with the book as you–it truly pained me not to love it like I thought I would. 😦 I know I won’t love everything I read, but I thought this one would be a winner, for sure. I felt the same way about Orwell’s 1984, although I disliked that one even more (gave it 1 star).

      I loved your review, btw–it was so easy to see how much you loved it, and why. 🙂

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        1. You’re welcome. 🙂 Not surprised to hear 1984 is a favorite of yours. Sometimes I feel like the only one who didn’t get it, because so many love it so much. Maybe I had too many preconceived ideas on how the story would go, and it ruined my experience with it. LOL

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Hmm. I’ve been thinking for a long time that I should try reading it again. I think the way it ended soured me on the whole experience… but I remember a lot about it that I really liked as I read it. I was pretty harsh with my rating, and it was all based on the ending.

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