This is a series of reviews of my favorite books published between 2010 and 2019.
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas (2018)
This takes place in an alternate United States (or in the near future?), when a Personhood Amendment to the Constitution has made abortion and in vitro fertilization illegal. It alternates among four women, who are named but who, in their narratives, refer to themselves by role rather than name. The biographer is single and wants to have a child but is having difficulty conceiving. The mender gave up her child for adoption long ago and now helps women with various issues, including unwanted pregnancies. The wife is chafing in her traditional role as wife and mother and longs for an identity of her own. And the daughter is underage, pregnant, and desperate. A fifth woman is the biographer’s subject, a nineteenth-century explorer who studied Arctic sea ice and never wanted either a husband or children. Zumas explores the interior worlds of all of these women through the lens of the restrictions placed on them by society, and even though her premise is somewhat dystopian, it also feels all too possible. What seems more shocking than young girls being jailed for contemplating aborting their pregnancies is how accepting everyone seems of the situation. The men in particular float through the story like jellyfish, untethered from responsibility, completely unaware of the struggles the women in their lives are dealing with. But Zumas does not make this a story of either hopelessness or victimhood. These women may struggle with indecision, but they do have agency and they do take charge of their own lives. Zumas’s writing is often poetic, very absorbing, and both frightening and inspiring.