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Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
Literary fiction

Red Clocks

by Leni Zumas

Quick take

In a futuristic Amerca where abortion is illegal, four women cope with the weight of these laws and societal expectations.

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This is a high-concept novel containing unlikable characters and experimental writing that is not pertinent to the main plot.

Why I love it

Cristina Arreola
BOTM Judge

Don’t let the pink and red cover fool you. Red Clocks is no romance or "beach read." Instead, it is a frightening dystopian novel about what happens when politicians successfully manage to push back on women’s reproductive rights little by little, until none are left at all.

In Lena Zumas’s near-future America, The Personhood Amendment has made both abortion and in-vitro fertilization illegal, and the Every Child Needs Two Act is about to make it impossible for unmarried people to adopt children. The story is set in a small town in Oregon, where four women cope with the weight of these laws and the equally-crushing magnitude of societal expectations. There’s Ro, an unmarried writer and teacher desperate to have children but who cannot get pregnant. There’s Mattie, an adopted teenager who has accidentally become pregnant and is desperate for an abortion. Susan is a mother of two children who fantasizes about leaving her husband. And finally, Gin is a young "witch" who offers herbal cures to women in need of gynecological help, including abortions. Their four lives converge and intertwine in strange ways, especially when a heated trial breaks out in their town, forcing them all to grapple with this new world order.

The true power of Red Clocks lies in the distance the author creates between the women and the reader, in how she intentionally refrains from portraying their emotional states. But then, we don’t need the author to explain how they’re are feeling, do we? The things they feel—the desire to choose or postpone motherhood, the desire to seek fulfillment beyond motherhood, and the fear of realizing that these decisions are no longer yours'”are endemic to all women. The takeaway from Zumas’s book is clear: There is no perfect way to be a woman, but it should every woman’s right to choose her own path.

As I flipped the final pages of this novel, I began to contemplate how I would describe it in this review—dystopian? That is the obvious choice, and it fits. But to me, it reads a bit like horror.

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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 herbalist, 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.

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Member thoughts

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All (3195)
Love (1004)
Like (1574)
Dislike (617)
3402 ratings
  • 30% Love
  • 46% Like
  • 18% Dislike
  • New York, NY

    I actually read some mixed reviews of this one, but I couldn't put it down. It's a bit “dystopian,” but so much more than JUST that. Above all, it's human and challenging and with some lovely writing.

  • Lindon, UT

    The comparisons to Handmaid’s Tale are expected, but the character arcs in Red Clocks reflect those of many women I know, so it’s likely I’d recommend reading Red Clocks before Atwood’s masterpiece.

  • Madison, WI

    Didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did – a world we are almost living in, but ends with hope. A meditation on motherhood and womanhood. Beautiful writing style, but missing racial diversity

  • Houston, TX

    This book stayed with me long after I had turned the last page. I’ve already passed it along to a friend and recommended it to countless others. It feel especially poignant in light of today’s world.

  • Newark, DE

    This is supposed to be the modern-day “A Handmaid’s Tale,” but it is much better. Zumas captures all four characters’ personalities, while telling this important story of women’s empowerment.

  • New York, NY

    Red Clocks may not immediately pull you in but stick with it and you'll become hooked to this heart-wrenching, yet beautiful, cautionary read of a world that's scarily not​ too distant from our own.

  • Cincinnati , OH

    A future that’s only a few passed laws away. I loved how this was able to convey the different perspectives of different women, yet unite them when it mattered most-just as I feel we (should)do IRL.

  • Helena, MT

    This unique, haunting novel investigates woman- & motherhood in a terrifying reality in which women's reproductive rights have been stripped away. A dark & beautiful meditation on feminism & humanity.

  • Milton, WA

    This book brilliantly tells the story of how four women are affected by the implementation of extremist laws and the complexity that goes with making the right choice when it conflicts with your wants

  • Milbank, SD

    This was a thought provoking novel that flipped the world upside down. I loved every second of it and hardly put it down. Also loved the changing perspectives each chapter, went very well with my ADD.

  • Jacksonville , IL

    I had such a hard time reading this book because of the style and diction. Eventually, I got into the groove and really enjoyed this life-altering perspective on my gender as a woman. Worth the read!

  • New York, NY

    Pure love. I love that each woman had it’s own voice and this was reflected on the writing. Everyday Women challenge by their surroundings and reclaming their power, taken from them, so eye-opening.

  • Fort Worth, TX

    "Red Clocks" is a book that I would recommend for any woman to read. The plot line of the government taking away women's rights over her reproductive health is more important today since Roe v . Wade.

  • Media, PA

    Powerful. Strange. Electric. Takes place in an Atwood-ian future that's not so unimaginable today. Little Easter eggs throughout that point to feminists of legend and history--excited to dive in more.

  • New York, NY

    I genuinely loved this book. The characters are all very captivating and their stories stick with you - I find myself still daydreaming about them. These women's lives are woven together beautifully.

  • Steilacoom, WA

    The author's style is extremely interesting in her omniscient, stream-of-consciousness, abrupt tone. I love the fact that some scenes provoked such guttural feelings that I had to look away and pause.

  • New Haven, CT

    I finished this book in four days a.k.a I devoured it and licked my fingers clean. Anyone who is interested in reproductive rights should read this book. Anyone who is breathing should read this book.

  • San Antonio , TX

    This is an extremely timely novelization of the effects of criminalizing abortion and mixing church and state. Your heart will break for the main characters as they navigate a world meant as a warning

  • Beaverton, OR

    A MUST read, shines a light on extreme changes to Women's Rights and some eye opening truths that really made me think. I'm from the Oregon Coast and this book brought be right back home, by the sea.

  • Frederick, MD

    This book focuses on such an interesting topic: abortion, adoption, fertility, women's rights, etc. I found myself wanting to read more, just to see how the characters' lives will play out. Great read

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