Review – Red Clocks

Red Clocks – Leni Zumas

Final Thoughts: ⭐️⭐️⭐️


First of all, I would really appreciate if Auto-Correct would quit changing “Zumas” to “Zumba.”

Second of all, for no good reason, this book was a chore and a half. It took all of my effort, energy, and spirit to start this book and really dig into it.

I am happy that I did.

Red Clocks is so different than how I’d imagined it to be. From the perspective of four different, but slightly intertwined, women, we learn what the world is like after the introduction of the Personhood Amendment. Abortion is entirely illegal, with prison sentences to boot. What’s more is that in-vitro-fertilization is also illegal, because there’s no use in non-organic baby-making when the orphanages are full, and adoption will soon require two parents, because single-mothers (or single-fathers) are clearly insufficient.

The dystopian law-making is infuriating, but it is not unimaginable. The Personhood Amendment sounds like a bill that Dan Lipinski or Paul Ryan would introduce, and in this day and age of impressionable conservatives, I could see this situation being entirely real.

I’d expected Red Clocks to be a straightforward dystopia. When I first sat down to it, I was blown away by the prose. Zumas has a strange voice. Interwoven between the alternating perspectives are snippets of a story about a female arctic explorer; these are excerpts from a biography being written by one of the characters. Each time the perspective changes, the chapter is headed by their title: either the mender, the biographer, the wife, or the daughter. The style of writing is intensely cerebral; this wasn’t an easy read for me. While the jarring style tested me at first, I decided that it was worth it. Zumas’s voice is intellectual, but far from pretentious, and it has distinguished this book as a very smart, intense read.

A large part of me yearns for the idea of a more attainable prose style. I am pro-choice and proud, and I was so excited by the concept of this book. I knew I would devour it and find all of the truths I was looking for. And I did find truth, but I had to break through the elaborate wall of abstract execution first. I loved the concept of this book a little bit more than I loved the actual book, but I think it’s just a personal preference. I wanted to get closer to the situation and to the characters, and I wanted to feel passionately connected to the ideas within, but the thoughtful, creative prose kept me at a bit of a distance. I think it was a respectful view of (cisgender) womanhood, but I didn’t really find this to be the feminist work of art that I’d expected. I made a lot of assumptions about Red Clocks, so, again, let me reiterate that I firmly believe my shortcomings with this book are really just the fault of my own misguided expectations.

The book isn’t obvious about its views toward abortion rights. It presents a situation and simply explores the ramifications of it. Red Clocks shows the affect of the Personhood Amendment from entirely different attitudes. The Biographer is a single woman who desperately wants a child, but can’t conceive on her own, and soon, will be unable to adopt as a single parent. She resents The Daughter, one of her high school students, for seeking out an abortion across the Canadian border. While I selfishly wish I could claim this is a piece of pro-choice literature, I cannot. Red Clocks is elevated above the idea of right or wrong. The book is accepting and exploratory of all consequences of the amendment, and I believe that you could read this and find truth in it no matter your political orientation.

I almost want to say thank you to Leni Zumas, for creating a book about abortion that tells multiple stories, that explores the meaning of it within the lives of different women. Thank you for the nuance, for the honesty, and for the representation.

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