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Red Clocks

by Leni Zumas

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9225618,747 (3.76)1 / 127
Abortion is 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 Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own. 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 herbalist, or "mender," who brings all their fates together when she's arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.… (more)
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» See also 127 mentions

English (55)  French (1)  All languages (56)
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
I'm late to reading this novel, so late that I'm not certain it should be classified as dystopian, since the world described could become real any day now. Using multiple perspectives, the author presents very different women, different choices, and different desires, but shows how each is constrained by law and expectations. Often I felt like the author was seeking to describe what it's like to live in a woman's body at different stages of life. I identified with several of the women and especially with their experiences. This book was hard to read, but in the best way possible. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Jun 19, 2022 |
In the US, a constitutional amendment has recently passed declaring any fertilized cell to have the full rights of a human being, meaning that anyone who gets or provides an abortion can and will be charged with murder. Another law is about to go into effect, too, preventing single parents from adopting, because "Every Child Needs Two." In this world, we meet four women: One who is desperate to have a child of her own. One who is being driven crazy by her life with her children and her might-as-well-be-a-child husband. One who gave her own baby up for adoption, and who now lives in the woods treating other women with herbs. And a teenage girl who finds herself accidentally pregnant.

I'll be honest, I was a bit leery of this book going in, thinking the odds were higher than I'd like that it'd either be a heavy-handed political screed (which aren't super enjoyable even when I very much agree with them) or an incredibly depressing dystopia (which I might find a little hard to handle these days). But I think it does avoid being either of those. The situation faced by women in this all-too-plausible world is infuriating -- at least, it is if you value reproductive rights, although I imagine the novel would be infuriating in entirely different ways if you think those laws sound like fantastic ideas -- but the novel itself isn't as bleak as I'd feared. And giving us the stories of four different women (or five, if you count the snippets from the biography one of the women is writing), all with very different experiences and desires and perspectives when it comes to their own reproduction, is a great way to explore things.

All that having been said, I still didn't love it, although I keep second-guessing the reasons why. One of them is that I had trouble getting along with the writing style. Zumas hit a major misstep for me almost immediately with the way that she refuses to use her character's names when writing in their POV. That, in itself, is a literary device that can be interesting, but in this case, it turned out that all the characters know each other and readily use each other's names, so it seemed to accomplish absolutely nothing other than keeping me confused, early on, about which names went with which POV characters and who was being talked about at any given moment. I may have started muttering to myself about stupid literary gimmicks and "yet another MFA type whose writing is so 'clever' it can't get out of its own way" or words to that effect. Which is maybe unfair, and I did more or less warm up to the writing eventually, but I think that initial reaction colored a lot of my response to the whole thing.

Also not helping was the fact that I found almost all of the characters annoying. Which is probably also unfair, Hell, the carefully calibrated surgical-strike awfulness of the most irritating character in the book -- the husband of the married POV character -- is actually a fairly impressive artistic accomplishment. And the women are supposed to be flawed, with their issues and capacity for pettiness and so on no doubt being very much part of the point. Women are complicated human beings, people are judgmental because no one ever fully understands another's POV, society's attitudes about women mess with everyone's head, and so on. I get it. And, again, it did work better for me as the novel went on. But as a reading experience, it didn't exactly thrill me. Although it did leave me asking myself uncomfortable and thought-provoking questions about my own ability to sympathize with women whose experiences and desires differ significantly from my own, which I think is probably a worthwhile result in itself.

Anyway. Can't say I entirely enjoyed it, for reasons that might well be as much my fault as the author's, but I certainly did appreciate aspects of it, and in the end I'm not sorry I read it, anyway. ( )
2 vote bragan | Mar 28, 2022 |
Red Clocks is scarier for me than The Handmaid's Tale (which I loved!), because it isn't a dystopian novel, set in the future with a different societal setup. It is so frighteningly close to now that I can almost touch it. The legal manipulations going on in Texas and other states concerning abortion and women's rights are just small steps beyond this book. I am incensed and petrified and we have to pay attention. NOW. ( )
  Berly | Jan 16, 2022 |
Four present day women grapple with identity and reproduction. Gin is a healer who knows herbs. Mattie is a pregnant teen who wants her life and future. Susan is a wife and mother who loves her children but is overwhelmed by their demands and her husband's lack of engagement. Ro longs for a baby, but has no partner. Laws relating to abortion, family structures, and fetal rights all create complications for these women.

In a parallel, Ro is writing a biography of a female arctic explorer who also must find her own path.

The overlay of the various stories and the secondary characters around the women demonstrate the ongoing struggles for women in finding the balance between giving life and losing their own.
  4leschats | Jan 5, 2022 |
Keep Them Barefoot

Leni Zumas uses the Personhood Amendment as the impetus for her novel about the lives of four disparate women, plus a fictional 19th century historical figure, to illustrate in dramatic fashion the constraints under which many women struggle now and perhaps in the near future if certain zealots get their way. She further emphasizes her points by compartmentalizing these women by their primary roles: The Biographer, The Wife, The Daughter, and The Mender. The historical figure, an ambitious woman who doesn’t hew to the societal demands of her time, is simply a woman, itself, when you view the novel this way, a restrictive compartment.

The novel follows the lives of these women living in a small Oregon coastal fishing town, including how they interact with each other. The Biographer, Ro, researches and writes a biography of 19th century Arctic explorer Eivør Mínervudottir, teaches at the local high school, and tries via IVF to have a baby before her biological clock and a new law sounds expiration. The Wife, Susan, raises two children as she suffocates in her marriage to her teacher husband, who seems indifferent to her and certainly self-absorbed. The Daughter, Mattie, an adopted child, finds herself pregnant and desperate, as abortions have been outlawed and harming a fetus in anyway is a crime. The Mender, Gin, a young crone of sorts, lives in the woods, prefers the company of her animals to humans, and sells herbal remedies to townspeople. And Eivør forms something of an intermezzo between chapters not only adding a note of emphasis to the issues faced by the characters but also reminding us that severely restricting women to certain accepted roles has always been the norm.

These women prove complex, more expansive than their definitions, but also squarely within them as well. Ro nearly impoverishes herself trying to become pregnant but puts aside her desires to help, though not without much inner torment, Mattie resolve her unwanted pregnancy. Susan struggles to exit her marriage and builds up lots of resentment toward Ro, who she views as free, though Ro resents Susan partly because she has what Ro desires. Gin, for her part, can’t help but be involved with others in town, regardless of how much she wishes most to be left alone.

Hanging over all of them and affecting them in different ways is the Personhood Amendment, which steals control of their lives from them and imposes potentially severe punishments and restrictions upon them. This, for those not familiar, for in fact it is a real proposal pushed by some antiabortion groups, declares life begins at conception, triggering a whole laundry list of laws, among them murder for abortions, no contraception, and more. In the novel, this is coupled with it being illegal to go to Canada for an abortion, as you will be turned away, even arrested, at the “Pink Wall,” the requirement of two, a man and woman, as parents, and the impending end to IVF. Since all these currently don’t exist but could if some had their way, the novel has the flavor of a dystopian future.

Some may find the novel’s flow a bit disjointed and the writing a little showy, while others may not think it dystopian enough in the sense of being technologically removed from our time. But for others interested in how society works, and can work even harder, to mold women to limited expectations, the novel will resonate. ( )
  write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zumas, Leniprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Harms, LaurenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"For nothing was simply one thing. The other Lighthouse was true too." --Virginia Woolf
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For Luca and Nicholas per sempre
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By walking, she told her students, is how you make the road.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Abortion is 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 Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own. 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 herbalist, or "mender," who brings all their fates together when she's arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

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