Red Clocks

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Red Clocks

God, I wanted to love this book. I knew it had controversial reviews, but I was already fan-girling about the premise: a not-so-dystopian future where psycho conservatives have outlawed abortion, in vitro fertilization, and single parent adoption. That’s exactly the kind of too-close-to-home feminist plot I’m hungry for. Plus, it has multiple narrators — my guilty pleasure storytelling tool! 

Unfortunately, by chapter three, I’d hit a wall. Red Clocks is difficult to chew. Other reviews call it too cerebral, weirdly misogynist, with flat stereotypes and an absence of POC characters. I agree with all these critiques. So, I won’t repeat them here, but I encourage any would-be readers of Red Clocks to take a peek at these reviews before they commit to the 350+ pages.

Author: Leni Zumas • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company • Released: 2018

Quotes I’ll Scribble Across My Mirror in Red Lipstick

“The comparing mind is a despairing mind.”

Leni Zumas, Red Clocks

“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.”

Leni Zumas, Red Clocks

“What does the word ‘spinster’ do that ‘bachelor’ doesn’t do? Why do they carry different associations? These are language acts, people!”

Leni Zumas, Red Clocks

“Shut up, she tells her monkey mind. Please shut up, you picker of nits, presser of bruises, counter of losses, fearer of failures, collector of grievances future and past.”

― Leni Zumas, Red Clocks

“Two years ago the United States Congress ratified the Personhood Amendment, which gives the constitutional right to life, liberty, and property to a fertilized egg at the moment of conception. Abortion is now illegal in all fifty states, Abortion providers can be charged with second-degree murder, abortion seekers with conspiracy to commit murder. In vitro fertilization, too, is federally banned, because the amendment outlaws the transfer of embryos from laboratory to uterus. (The embryos can’t give their consent to be moved.)
She was just quietly teaching when it happened. Woke up one morning to a president-elect she hadn’t voted for. This man thought women who miscarried should pay for funerals for the fetal tissue and thought a lab technician who accidentally dropped an embryo during in vitro transfer was guilty of manslaughter.”

Leni Zumas, Red Clocks

That last one rattled my core. I, too, woke up one morning in 2016 to a president-elect I hadn’t voted for who promised he’d overturn Roe v. Wade. That following January, thousands of women put on pinky pussy hats and marched to save their right to a safe and legal abortion… but what if they hadn’t? And what if the Democrats hadn’t won the House in 2018 or the Presidency and the Senate in 2020? 

Right-wing dictators, religious cult members, conspiracy-infected science-deniers and misogynists who’d rather own women than respect them still threaten the bodily autonomy of people with uteruses. I donated to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU after reading this book. Red Clocks’ bloodstained staircases, jagged wire hangers, and incarceration of mostly black and low-income women seeking autonomy over their own damn bodies are a closer reality than we think. We must remain vigilant.

Characters I’ve Irrationally Fallen In Love With 

I don’t love any of the characters in this book, but the character I want to scream obscenities at least is the The Mender. 

A forest dwelling witch descended from the Salem witches themselves, The Mender, or Gin Percival, views the world through visceral smells, tastes, and touches. Zumas captures the disconnected thoughts of The Mender in an unstructured but poetic way. These chapters kept my attention, despite their frequent train-of-thought monologues, because The Mender offered raw perspectives of the quaint oceanside setting. Gin Percival is wild and blunt, and while never as tangible as I’d like, I still enjoyed reading her story and injecting an alluring personality into all the gaps Zumas left unwritten. 

I’ll also give The Wife a special shout out because despite her predictability, her A Dolls’ House-esque character arc felt very real. Red Clocks suffers overall from a disconnecting distance between the reader and its characters; I’m not sure if Zumas wrote the book with a National Geographic tone in mind, but I never truly connected to any of these characters. 

However, I want to splash a glass of red wine all over The Biographer’s smug face and twirl around with a righteous apathy, not caring for one second how the bitter women will get the crimson stain out of her dress. Thank you, Zumas, for this hypocritical, judgmental shrew who laments her mayonnaise life page after page after page. Even the feeble attempts to humanize The Biographer through her brother’s ill-timed death did nothing but increase my disgust at such a deflated person.

The Place I’d Visit if My Wardrobe Didn’t Already Send Me to Narnia 

Honestly, I’d love to visit this town, but obviously not in this timeline. I’ve never traveled to the Pacific Northwest, but I’ve always wanted to. Windy, overcast weather is my favorite reading and writing climate. Zumas spends paragraphs on the visitors who gawk at the ocean and point at the whales, and I’m unashamed to say I’d be one of those cheesy tourists wearing a seafoam-colored T-shirt decorated with fresh Cricut vinyl that says, “I drove all the way to Oregon and only got this stupid t-shirt.”

The Part of Red Clocks that Disturbed My Cat 

Two parts made my cat twist herself into a Halloween feline with her back arched and her tail fluffed out like a duster.

The first: Zumas has The Wife lament her vulva multiple times throughout the book describing it as ugly dangling labia that literally clap. Um, can we stop describing women’s post-birth bodies as variations of the word “used?” Please, writers, take an anatomy class, I’m begging you. As much as I tried to interpret these lines as a byproduct of The Wife’s low-self esteem, I couldn’t shake the feeling that “clapping post-birth labia” was a line inspired by authorial internalized misogyny instead of character internalized misogyny. Add this to the way Zumas has The Mender describe her attraction to women–with visceral adjectives better suited for a Pornhub video title than literature–and I worry the misogyny is coming from inside the house. I hope I’m wrong.

The second: [SPOILER; HIGHLIGHT TO SEE] The moment The I’m-A-Shitty-Fucking-Person Biographer contemplates asking The Daughter, her literal 15-year-old student, to give her the fetus she’s trying to abort, my cat raised her feathery-furred head and said, “Is this a fucking Glee plot? What the hell are you reading?”

Did I Chuck Red Clocks Across the Room After I Finished it? 

No. I set it down on my bedside table, pet my cat Lyra, and said, “I’m disappointed.”

Will Red Clocks Collect Dust on My Bookshelf or Will I Read it Again? 

The cover art for this book is gorgeous. It’s red (my favorite color) and has an abstract vagina-diamond on the front cover. It just looks deliciously dystopian. So, it will definitely stay on my shelf next to all my other SciFi novels.

The Best Non-Pornographic Fanart I Could Find 

I couldn’t find any. I thought for sure someone had drawn The Mender. If I could draw, I would draw The Mender. Please give me a short story about The Mender, Zumas!

I did, however, find this cool red clock from some website called I’m not sure how legitimate this website is, but the clock is pretty darn creepy.

You should read this book if: You enjoy heavy-handy, poetic prose with lots of symbolism, imagery, and AP English metaphors. It’s not my style, and that’s okay, but it’s undeniably well-written. 

However, the book’s tagline “What is a woman for?” never got answered. Maybe that’s the point, but I finished the book frustratingly restless. I think it’s a fine dystopian novel for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, but after reading other comp titles like The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Station Eleven, or even Mother of Invention, I can’t recommend this book as your first post-Atwood novel. If you’ve exhausted the other feminist dystopian titles on your book list, sure, give Red Clocks a read. If nothing else, the setting of an eerily similar but anti-abortion America will remind you that our fight for reproductive rights and bodily autonomy is far from over.

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