A striking addition to the feminist speculative fiction genre, Red Clocks by Leni Zumas imagines a not-so-unbelievable future where where Roe v. Wade has been repealed resulting in the criminalization of abortion and the inception of a new law will prohibit adoptions to single parent households. Women are forced to wrestle with the demons of this uber-patriarchy, fearing the perceived success and failure of their biology. Through four alternating voices, we see the current state of women’s rights reflected in their struggle to cope and their ability to overcome.
First we meet Ro, a high school biology teacher who is wrestling with the convoluted regulations surrounding single-person pregnancy and child-rearing. She can no longer rely on in-vitro fertilization as the new law grants personhood to a newly fertilized egg, making transfer and implantation impossible as the embryo cannot give the legal consent now required to do so. Secondly, the window for adoption as a single parent is quickly closing as a result of the Every Child Needs Two law requiring adoptive families to consist of two parents. With this bleak outlook she turns to the life of the Danish polar explorer Eivør Minervudottir, losing herself in the past of a women who similarly tried to overcome the strangling patriarchy of her time.
The contrasting narrative of Susan, a work-weary housewife and mother of two, serves to ground the novel in reality and highlight the often misaligned beliefs surrounding the allure of motherhood. Her daily challenges are heaped even higher through the frequent lack of help from her husband which drives her to discontent and resentment. She battles internally with her exasperation, fearing retribution should she appear to be ungrateful while other women fear infertility or unwanted pregnancy. Caught in a torturing limbo, Susan desperately searches for vindication by means of fantasies of the suicidal and sexual nature turning inward evermore.
The next narrative of the group belongs to Mattie, a brilliant teenage girl and also the adoptive daughter of two loving parents. When she falls pregnant she is forced to weigh her future against the present risk and her unknown past. She struggles with her beliefs surrounding adoption; having been forced to wonder who her birth mother was and where she is now. But the alternatives, keeping the child or seeking a risky and dangerous illegal abortion, are both terrifying in equal measure. Through her plight we see the consequences of gendered laws and the resilience of the female spirit.
Lastly, we uncover the story of Gin, a reclusive healer who carries out the traditions of generations before her. Living off the land and practicing ancient medicinal techniques, Gin would appears to be far removed from the current status of things; however, she is not without her secrets. In an attempt to make amends for a past transgression, Gin falls into the hands of the law and finds herself persecuted for her actions. She is sent to trial for medical malpractice and it is this event that serves at the novel’s linch-pin, gathering the once seemingly distant narratives together.
As the novel progresses we being to discover how these four stories intersect. Each voice stands alone, but it is the subtle connections that knit this novel together proving again the depth of feminine bonds.
A review copy of this title was provided by Little, Brown and Co (Lee Boudreaux Books).