Red Clocks

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Apr 2018

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“She knew—it was her job as a teacher of history to know—how many horrors are legitimated in public daylight, against the will of most of the people.”

This is an incredibly timely and stunning book. 

RED CLOCKS is a story is set in a small town in Oregon in the near-future where these four women live. The Personhood Amendment has made abortion and in-vitro fertilization illegal. As the story begins we also learn that a new bill is being passed that makes it impossible for unmarried people to adopt children. As these four women cope with these laws and motherhood or lack thereof we start to see how societal expectations shapes each of their lives. There’s Ro, an unmarried teacher and unpublished biographer, who is desperate to have a child while battling failed attempts at getting pregnant. Then there’s Mattie, a straight A high school student who accidently becomes pregnant and is desperate to have an illegal abortion. Then there’s Susan, a mother of two children and a wife to a man she no longer wants to be married to. And last but not least we have Gin, a “witch” who offers herbal cures to a myriad of women’s health problems, including abortions. 

All of the characters are super dynamic, complex, and interesting. The story is compelling and oftentimes upsetting because of the way it reflects on our real world. I would recommend it to someone who is interested in feminism and/or dystopia because the book inspires to think of important issues and put more effort to try to understand them. I recommend it.
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With the situation in the US as it is, a book like this is quite timely. While the synopsis of the book makes it seem like this generations Handmaid's Tale, there seems to be too much emotional distance put between the reader and the characters. There is also an experimental writing style that distracted too much from the story itself. As a reader, it was hard to get in to this book even though it's something I really wanted to enjoy simply because there was too much keeping me from getting invested.
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When I first started to read Red Clocks, I wasn’t sure this was going to be the book for me. But then, I continued reading, and boy was I wrong!

I got a bit confused at first by the chapter changes — each chapter is from one of the four main character’s point of view and their name is never mentioned in that chapter. However, once I got to know the characters, their voices were so unique that there was no danger of confusing them.

I love the premise of the book — that in the near future (ie, anytime, really), the abortion laws in the US are repealed and embryos are granted person status, which changes everything around reproduction. Also, there’s a new law around adoption where “every child needs two”, meaning single people can no longer adopt. Red Clocks takes place just as these new laws are going into effect so that we can see their full impact.

By throwing the world into this kind of situation, combined with the story of the 19th century Icelandic Arctic explorer, Elivor. Zumas is able to explore the concept of motherhood from many different angles in a fascinating and thoughtful way. By about mid way through the book, I couldn’t put it down and just had to finish.
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Rating: 2.5 stars rounded up to 3 stars.

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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The theme of Red Clocks by Leni Zumas is women and the right to choose. This book is clear on which side of the question it stands on. I appreciate the premise of this book. The conversation is an important one. I also appreciate the surreal environment the book manages to create. However, for me, the book feels like it's trying too hard to be literary. I am left focusing on how the book is written rather than the story being told. 

Read my complete review at 

Reviewed for NetGalley
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This dystopian novel is told from the perspective of several characters. It is thought-provoking and would be perfect for a book club.
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I'm glad I hung in for this book. Since the chapters shift between four women's perspective and information on woman from Iceland the mid 1800s, it takes some patience to get the rhythm. The dystopian quality is subtle, frankly, because it feels like it could be reality at any moment. In Red Clocks, it is illegal for women to seek abortions. The "pink wall" stops US citizens from seeking abortions in Canada. Women have to bury their miscarried fetuses. Adopted children must be brought into two parent homes. But this is the world in which the women live.

These women's lives are interconnected, some more directly than others. A mother and a daughter. Someone adopted. Someone given up for adoption. Partnered and unhappy. Single and not wanting a partner. Seeking pregnancy or at least to adopt. Faced with unplanned pregnancy. 

Once I got a feel for Zumas's writing and the different characters, I really enjoyed this book. The book ends, but it doesn't allow for a tidy resolution.
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An astounding novel that everyone should read. It is somewhat disjointed and hard to follow but if one can forget about that and just read, it all comes together. If one can get a bit out of one's brain and allow things to be not totally clear, the book hits one at a visceral level. The book has been labeled dystopian because all women's reproductive rights have been outlawed. Seems as though that is what many in this country want to happen and that future may be almost upon us. Read this book.
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Clocks are vaginas.

I personally thought that was pretty interesting, liguistically, but thought I should give fair warning to anyone who's wondering "what are red clocks?" Answer: they're vaginas. Or maybe "wombs" is more accurate.

In this refreshingly female-focused speculative fiction universe, the Personhood Amendment has been added to the Constitution, outlawing abortion and IVF. A new Every Child Needs Two law is on the horizon, which would prohibit singles from adopting. 

The book stays in third person perspective, but rotates its lens among several women, focusing on one at a time. The Biographer is a single high-school teacher who desperately wants to get pregnant, and is also writing a biography of a (fictional, I think) female Icelandic polar explorer. (The snippets of this biography, with its meditations on pack ice and proto-feminism, are probably my favorite parts of the book.) The Mender is a traditional herbalist who lives in the woods. The Wife is exactly that, a bored housewife wondering what else she could be doing with her life. Her daughter is The Daughter, a high-school student whose close friend was one of the first women to violate the Personhood Amendment. 

There are men in the narrative: the principal of the school where the biographer teaches and the daughter attends, and where the wife's husband also teaches; the mender has a special friend who comes by regularly; and the daughter has a mad crush on a boy her age. But with the exception of the mender's special friend, these men are all jackasses who barely seem to recognize that the women in their lives have needs, have desires, have agency... that they are persons, fully developed. That (not entirely unexpectedly) throws the backdrop of the Personhood Amendment into sharp and purposeful relief. 

This is not a subtle narrative, but it is nonetheless a believable one. The people content to live in a world where individual women's needs and desires are subjugated to political/male commandments are, it turns out, pretty familiar. And that's the most shocking thing about Red Clocks: it shows us a potential future that, when you get right down to it, isn't shocking at all.
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Chilling book and more plausible than not. I didn't love/get the lagniappes (that isn't the right word; what is it?) before the biographer's chapters (I get what they were just not, really, why) but the rest incredibly powerful and a warning for what will happen if we aren't all vigilant.
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Yet another one of those female authored female centric dystopias. Not really my favorite and yet their sheer ubiquity, my love for dystopias  and some other inexplicable reasons make me continue checking them out. In all fairness, this is barely a dystopia, in fact the setting seems frighteningly realistic in the modern political climate. Just an amendment or two to make an already conservative leaning country into one that uses religion to reinstate their narrow view of a family by controlling reproductive rights. So fetuses are given rights, women are deprived of rights and the world goes on spinning. And in this world there are several female characters who are all affected by these changes in various ways…the main protagonist, Biographer, a woman virtually deafened to the world by her biological clock and desperately trying to get pregnant, a young girl who is pregnant and doesn’t want to be, a married mother of two tired of her life and so on. There’s also an underlying story of a childless and totally ok with it female polar explorer from the 1800s that the biographer is trying to shape into a book. So it’s all about reproduction. Yet again. How frustratingly unoriginal. Surely there is a female author somewhere who can put out a dystopia that isn’t entirely revolved around babies. I actually have a label for these sorts of books, which my dearly beloved assures me is too crude for public usage, but this book is so strategically and consistently structured around a vagina, that it’s nearly impossible not to at least think it. In fact it is specifically Zumas’ hyper realistic viscerality (visceralness? one of these) that was the major detractor for me with this book. And I can’t imagine it’ll have much of a male audience, but one doesn’t want to be accused of sexism in this day and age, so moving on…The best thing about reading this one was all the reviews I’ve read of it, they have lowered my expectations so significantly that actually this ended up surprisingly decent. The reviews warned of disjointedness, multiple storylines that alternated all too often and took too long to cohere and so on, but really none of that affected the book’s readability and the writing itself (aside from some gruesome anatomy) was quite good. And  yes, the subject is very important and very relevant and it should be discussed and written and talked about, but after a while it’s kind of like when you have a friend who used to talk about all sorts of interesting things and then they reproduced and now you have to constantly listen to them  go on about their baby and look the countless baby photos and it’s baby this and baby that and you just want something…different already. But anyway, if you’re in the mood for this sort of thing, this uterus lining bound cautionary tale, go for it. It has its moments. Thanks Netgalley.
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3.5 stars
For the most part, I enjoyed reading this novel, but I don't think it lived up to the book jacket claims. It's Margaret Atwood-esque in conception, but not quite in execution. It certainly wasn't dystopian in the way it was removed from present day. It felt like we could be right around the corner from these legal restrictions, which I think worked to the novel's advantage thematically. It's also the reason the novel is notable. 

I generally enjoy novels with multiple characters' perspectives, but there are always risks to writing this way, and for me, this was true of this text. Because there were 5 voices, and 5 plot arcs, I didn't feel like any of them were developed enough, and while we got to know the characters pretty well, I think they lacked depth. For obvious reasons the characters' arcs focused on one key aspect of each woman's life, but this made them rather flat, and a little dull (less The Mender) after the 1/2 way point. However, I loved that the characters' internal struggles made the reader  both empathize with, and criticize the characters, which made them seem more real. Although the novel's description mentions that The Mender brings all the women together, the way in which this was done was a bit of a stretch. I love when novels tangle plots, but the connections between The Mender and a few characters weren't as strong as is usually the case in these kinds of novels, and felt insincere. 

I also didn't enjoy the first few chapters. I understand the somewhat vulgar language was the hook for the novel, but for me it was a bit of a turn off. I'm glad I kept reading, and I'm glad that wasn't the entirely of the novel, but it seemed to work as shock value, rather than setting the tone for the rest of the novel. 

This might be a novel I would recommend, but to specific readers, not as a general must read for all.
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I really wanted to love this book, it has everything I would want in a book. However, sadly I just couldn't get into it. I found myself confused at times with the names and people. I will take some time away from the book and hopefully, I will come back and revisit this read.
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Red Clocks, by Leni Zumas
Zumas interweaves the stories of five women throughout Red Clocks, revealing slowly, how they are connected. There will be much comparison to Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale and The Power, but Zumas’s novel is set in a political climate much like today and is based on legislation actually proposed by many of our current politicians. There are no bizarre religious ceremonies, as found in the Handmaids Tale; no magical abilities like those found in Alderman’s The Power. Zumas’s future world feels very real and imminent. Congress has passed the Personhood Amendment establishing rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo; outlawed in-vitro fertilization; ‘Every Child Needs Two’ prevents adoption by single parents; Roe vs. Wade has been abolished; and a “pink” wall exists now between Canada and the states, subjecting young women traveling north to submit to a pregnancy test causing violators, teens as young as 13 to be imprisoned. 
The structure of Red Clocks is separated into the voices of the five central characters, The Biographer (Ro) high school teacher and author; The Mender (Gin) a homeopathic healer; The Daughter (Mattie) adopted teen; The Wife (Susan) a young mother trapped in an unhappy marriage; and The Explorer (Eivor) a 19th century polar ice expert, whose biography Ro is writing. Red Clocks addresses the serious issues of women’s rights, identity, motherhood, and infertility. Zumas is certainly encapsulating and enlarging the current discussion American culture is debating. Zumas’s story construct is complex and distinctive; readers will be deeply rewarded by the deft storytelling and compelling characters.
A brilliant and important novel that I highly recommended for all.
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I struggled a bit with this rating – my feelings fall somewhere between 3 and 4 stars but I rounded up because I ultimately felt that it was an interesting exploration of women’s rights and the impact to life and liberty. Given our current political climate, the various pieces and parts of this novel are particularly scary as they constitute the hopes (and plans) of many conservatives in America. This is a dystopian novel that posits a world where abortion is illegal, in vitro fertilization is banned and a Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. The story is told through the experiences of five women in one community and how these new realities impact them. I found this book to be rather unsettling – I think that was perhaps because of how close to home this book is to what’s happening politically in America but it also came from the fact that this novel focused so much on the small, day to day aspects of the narrative. 

Although I’m glad that I read this novel, it was not a perfect book. The writing style never completely connected with me as a reader. It felt choppy and cloudy in some way. It made it more challenging for me to connect with the women in the novel. But, I was able to overlook some of these aspects given that the rest of the novel really did resonate with me. The one thing that made a huge impression on me is the fact that the effect of complacency had on where the story went – it reinforced the need for political commitment by all of us. The cautionary tale in this novel is scary – and it should be. We lose when we ignore the signs … when we assume that certain things won’t ever happen. They can and do happen. We need to keep our eye on these cultural and political issues that can impact all of us so much. 

I definitely think this book is worth reading but do know that the language and writing style may not connect with you. It’s something I’ve heard from a number of my bookish friends about this book. However, I do think it’s a good book that will remind you how important it is that we engage politically and not just let things happen.
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What a wake=up call to women everywhere. This book shattered me, wrecked me, kept me riveted, and resonated with me as a woman on so many levels. Wonderful read!
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I picked this book up based on it being a Book of the Month recommendation. The blurb sounded interesting to me as it was a very female-centered book.

The world has changed a bit, and women are living in times where they have to travel out of the country if they want an abortion. They also have to be married if they want to adopt. These changes in the world affect the characters of the novel in different ways. The Biographer wants a baby so badly she can taste it. In her forties and unmarried, artificial insemination isn't working and she's running out of time to adopt. The Wife has two beautiful children with her husband, but she constantly feels like she wants to leave. Things aren't good, and her husband will not go to counseling to work on it. The Daughter is a 15-year-old, scared and pregnant, trying to figure out how she can get an abortion without getting arrested. The Mender does her best to help women with any gynecological needs, using unorthodox methods. Often referred to as a witch, The Mender uses her oils and herbs to take care of anything that women need under the radar.

All of these lives intertwine in this book. It was a very interesting read, sometimes difficult because of the struggles these women are facing and the choices they have to make. I definitely recommend.
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I was so excited to read this and am so disappointed by it. I couldn't get into it enough to finish it and I can power through most books. I did not enjoy the writing style and thought it was just trying too hard to be the next Handmaid's Tale.
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I really enjoyed Red Clocks. I was skeptical at first based on the description. I expected a kind of rip-off of "The Handmaid's Tale" with more value-signaling and allegory than plot and character development. After seeing great reviews, I started reading it. I was immediately drawn in by the writing style and the way the book is organized. The story is told by four different female narrators with the biography of an historical Arctic explorer (also a woman) interspersed between their chapters. Through the four women, we get a complete view of the paths women can choose to take in regards to childbearing and the impact the new Personhood Amendment (banning abortion and IVF) and the impending Every Child Needs Two law (banning single people from adoption) have on women. I got worried about two thirds of the way in that I was reading a dystopian version of "Juno", but my concerns were unfounded and I was happy with the ending.
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