What does it mean to be in control of one’s life? How does a person balance their hopes and desires with what society wants or expects from them? What do you do when your own body betrays you? In Red Clocks, Leni Zumas explores a wide range of female experiences through a fast paced and thoughtful novel.
Red Clocks follows the story of five women, who lives are interconnected in ways that are not entirely obvious at first glance. Each chapter refers to the woman by her prescribed societal role: the biographer, Ro, a single high school teacher who desperately wants a child of her own, and who is also writing the biography on the (fictional) 19th century female polar explorer Eivor Minervudottir ,the wife, Susan, who is trying to take care of her two children while keeping her marriage to her difficult husband Didier afloat, the daughter, Mattie, one of Ro’s high school students who finds herself pregnant, and the mender, Gin, a hermit who creates herbal remedies in her cottage in the woods. The story hits its peak when Gin is arrested and essentially accused of a being a witch, and narratives that have run parallel intersect in crucial ways.
The universe of Red Clocks is not too far removed from the present day, with a few crucial changes. A “personhood amendment” to the constitution has been ratified, banning abortion and in vitro fertilization. A “pink wall” now stands between the US and Canada, where these practices are still legal, and women who either wish to get pregnant or to terminate one, go to great risks to do so. Rapidly approaching is a law known as “Every Child Needs Two,” which will prevent single people like Ro from adopting. Because in vitro fertilization is also outlawed, this adds nuance to the story, making it about more about a woman’s ability to control her body instead of solely about abortion.
The greatest strength in Red Clocks is the interconnected story. Between each chapter are excerpts from Ro’s biography on Eivor, which serves as bridge between the different women. One of the most interesting relationship is that between Ro and Susan. Ro works with Susan’s husband Didier at the local high school. Neither woman is happy with her life, Susan regretting giving up pursuing a law career to have children, and Ro feeling jealous of Susan’s family as she struggles to become pregnant. They claim to be friends, but the underlying jealousy from both sides makes this a tenuous friendship. The only character who is satisfied at the story’s start is Gin, even though she is viewed as an outcast.
Red Clocks is an exploration of the female experience, and the many different ways it can be lived. Readers looking for a thought provoking story with rich characters will not be disappointed.
Elizabeth Weislak is the Youth Services Coordinator for Alamance County Public Libraries. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org