‘Red Clocks’ review: terrifying, painful and strikingly beautiful

Leni Zumas’ novel Red Clocks takes us into an America that is scary, controlling, yet not that far from the one we know today.

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Red Clocks

Red Clocks is the latest work from Portland-based writer Leni Zumas, and has already been compared to the influential writing of Margaret Atwood and Naomi Alderman’s brilliant bestseller The Power.

On the front, the cover asks the reader ‘what is a woman for?’ a question that immediately conjures up images of motherhood and all that it is associated with. Yet, in Zumas’ undisclosed yet presumably near-future society, questions of the maternal are pushing the limits of the five women featured in the book.


Did you know that Norma McCorvey – the ‘Roe’ of the famous Roe vs. Wade case in the 1970’s – actually regretted her role in the battle for the legal right to have an abortion in America. Until her death last year, she campaigned alongside pro-lifers and said she was too young to understand the so-called consequenes her case would have.

Oregon – the edge of America. The thrashing waves against the rocks on the coast, the misty, eerie weather, a naturalistic and vast state. And also the setting of the tantalisingly terrifying novel, Red Clocks. In Zumas’ world, abortion is illegal in every state, punishable by a hefty prison sentence for even rape victims, the mentally ill, the pre-teens who made a mistake. Those who try to cross over to Canada are captured and returned the USA for sentencing as part of the ‘Pink Wall’ that is in place. There is no safe escape; back-street abortion clinics and dodgy homemade remedies are the only options for the women who feel desperately trapped.

There are more rights given to the unborn embryos – life, liberty and property – than to the women who unwillingly carry them.

As a young woman – and a woman who has no plans to have children in the near future – the novel intrigued yet scared me. I have followed America’s fascination with women and their childbearing rights since university and, like many others feared what would happen following Trump’s inauguration last year. The reversal of Roe vs. Wade isn’t a topic to be taken lightly. It is a very real, very violent possibility that could well happen.

In Zumas’ novel, five women narrate their lives since the law change and what the pro-life society has in store for them. For this isn’t a law that just affects the pregnant teen or the rape victim. The characters show us just how widespread and devastating the consequences of such a law and society could be.

We have the ‘witch doctor’ on trial for helping to nurse a victim of domestic violence, the teenager who struggles to find a way to terminate her accidental pregnancy, the mother-of-two who is not as privileged or happy as she appears, the single school-teacher and writer who is desperate for a baby, and finally the distant yet ever-present polar explorer, whose notes and frustrating biography interject the tales of the other women.

Each section and female voice stands completely alone and as powerful as one other. As is common with alternating narratives, all the women know each other or at least have a connection to each other. Their battle with the Personhood Amendment is intertwined as one.

The novel certainly builds and becomes more and more hopeless as the pages go on. Yes, some conflicts are resolved, but others are not. There isn’t really a ‘happy ending’ as such for anyone, something that I appreciated most about this book.

IVF is also banned, and a new ‘every child needs two’ law is just about to come into effect. The new law stops single parents from adopting, and no doubt shuns already single-parent households. The fight for complete control over women and their bodies and their family decisions is seemingly not over yet. This is something that we feel all too well in the minefield that is America.

There is violence and decay on every page, and it is so beautifully done. A group of dead and bloated whales washed up on the beach, the image of the recently aborted insides of a young girl in a clear plastic bucket, the cold and frosted body in a chest freezer in the forest, the soap scum around the sink of a filthy house. The message is clear – America is decaying, it is desperate. It is a bleak, brutal and dirty place.

It would be wrong to call all the characters powerful females. For they are not; they give into their own weaknesses and don’t speak up when they should do. They are not actively protesting the Personhood Amendment Act, just as many of us do not actively protest the laws which are in place now that limit a person’s livelihood. There are times where I was internally screaming at the pages of Red Clocks, frustrated by a character’s decision or lack of awareness at the space around her. Yet I felt their hopelessness and followed each on their journey. I cheered when the biographer decided the join that march.

I think this point is important and possibly the biggest takeaway from the brilliant novel. The hidden lives and struggles of all the characters are worthy of praise in their own right, even if one does seemingly suffer more than the others. The final interjections from the polar-explorer stuck with me the most; the image of her trapped beneath the ice, dying, and then being consumed by the people who butcher the sea-life who ate her. It is a horrifying and beautiful moment, yet it does not bring any solace.

There is no suggestion at the end of the novel of what may happen to the America we are left with. The character’s go back to their lives, a little more broken than before, some pledging to do more to fight the Personhood Amendment Act. But ultimately they are the same – they are simply surviving under the control.

View this post on Instagram

3 posts in 1 night! Whew! This is the last one til late tomorrow at least, promise! I have got to get some sleep! Thursday evening after I finished HAPPINESS: A MEMOIR, I began reading RED CLOCKS, by Leni Zumas. First and foremost, fans of THE HANDMAID'S TALE, this is an absolute must-read! I think I finished this up within half a day. RED CLOCKS takes place in Oregon, following the lives of several different women during a time period where abortion and IVF are banned. An act has protected every single embryo. Meaning, should a woman miscarry, that "child" must have a funeral burial. There is a "Pink Wall", separating The U.S. from Canada, preventing women from terminating pregnancies or recieving IVF. This book is intense. Like super intense. I loved it. Every single second of it. I'll admit, until I got the stories straight, my mind was fuzzing over. So if it happens to you… keep going. It's well worth it. #Bookstagram #BooksOfInstagram #Goodreads #Books #Book #Bookish #Bibliophile #CurrentlyReading #Bookworm #Read #Reading #RedClocks #LeniZumas #TheHandMaidsTale #MargaretAtwood #eBooks #eBook

A post shared by Samantha Lestrange (@samantha.lestrange) on

There is nothing fleeting about the feelings of female identity, frustration and societal expectations expressed in this novel, and Red Clocks/Leni Zumas wants to make sure you know that.

  • Red Clocks is available in most good bookshops and online. It is published by The Borough Press, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2018.

You may also like…

Seven black womanist writers to add to your reading list

We could all learn more about the suffrage movement

Understanding the World Through Literature: A Quest We Should All Undertake

My weird and wonderful relationship with food

Writing on other sites…

Hard to swallow: a review of The Red Pill

Why I’m Proud to Be a ‘Nasty Woman’

Have you read Red Clocks yet? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

32 thoughts on “‘Red Clocks’ review: terrifying, painful and strikingly beautiful

  1. This book seems like it is profoundly deep and thought provoking. As a mother of two young ones I don’t seem to have any time to read fiction books at the moment, but I can’t wait until I can read for fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Red Clocks looks like such an amazing read! I read The Handmaid’s Tale in high school and was the only person in my AP English class to love it. People thought that it was crazy and unrealistic, but I don’t think that our society is too far off from that hyperbolic dystopia as so many people would hope to believe.


  3. I don’t tend to read novels that are politically charged or too realistic, which would make it a lot scarier. I don’t think that we would get to that point but I do think people are unreasonable in considering the illegality of the situation. I don’t think enough people are unreasonable enough to make this a reality but we never know what the future holds.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, great review, this book really looks and sounds like an emotional and very intriguing book but I don’t think is my kind of book. But I am really curious and very intrigued by it that I might check it out one day, thank you so much for sharing your awesome post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have not read Red Clocks yet but it sounds like a really awesome read. The book and your review are so thought-provoking, I would love to check this out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s