Title: Red Clocks
Author: Leni Zumas
Publisher: HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction, The Borough Press
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Let the fact that I started and finished this book in one sitting be a testament to how amazing it was. That being said, this book was a real surprise for me. I had read the synopsis and thought, “Oh, this could be interesting, yay feminism!” but never thought that it would impact me the way it did. I’m going to discuss this book in terms of what it made me feel and think, and hopefully, by the end of this, you’ll want to read it, too. Also, this might be the most personal review I’ve ever written, but my goodness, this book wrecked me. But first…
Abortion has been declared illegal in the United States of America, and a law has been enacted that grants life, liberty, and property rights to all embryos upon conception. This law effectively makes any woman who chooses to terminate a pregnancy (for whatever reason) a criminal. In-vitro fertilization is also banned and only married couples can adopt. The story follows five very different women as they navigate this new world, each one burdened by her own past, present, and future, but also by society’s expectations of her and who, what, and why she should be. We follow Ro, the biographer (and Eivør, the little known 19th century Faroese explorer who is the subject of her biography); Susan, the married mother; Mattie, the student; and Gin, the forest-dwelling homeopath, as they traverse the choppy waves of imposing legislation and societal pressures, leading each woman down a path she didn’t expect to take.
This past week, I had my own biological scare. I thought I had endometriosis and my partner and I discussed whether that would hinder our ability to have a child at some point in the (far, far, faaar) future, if we so choose. It was scary, because it made me ask myself a bunch of questions I never really cared enough to ask: Is that something I even want? If so, why do I want it? And what if I don’t want it? Does that mean I failed somehow? The beauty of this book was the fact that it made you ask yourself many questions and it made you contradict yourself, too. I felt myself agreeing with all of these women at various points in their stories, only to disagree with them in another, feeling as if they each had a point, a right, a reason for their choices, and ultimately, I ended up agreeing with all of them, because they all did.
In a world where the United States of America has a president who (most probably) confuses the word “pap smear” with “pepperoni”, something like this is entirely plausible, and that thought terrifies me. I grew up in the States, but also in Lebanon, two very different countries with very different legislation, perspectives, and implementations regarding women’s rights (or lack thereof), and this book made them all collide. In and of itself, reading this book felt like an act of defiance against those who would try to control our bodies and our lives under the guise of making the world better through archaic or straight-up ridiculous legislation. The writing was resplendent. I don’t even have anything more than that to say about it, but the characters and the stories were even better, and I just loved the very concept of this book and how hard it made you think about these women and their lives.
One of the things that impacted me the most in this book was the idea that children of single mothers were somehow “worse” than those who were lucky enough to be raised in a “normal” two-parent household. I am the child of a single mother, and I can promise you that I wouldn’t trade all the bustling, jostling “normal” families in the known universe for my mother, because she managed to put up with my shit for eighteen years and I turned out okay. The author illustrated the societal and political oppression forced upon women under the heel of patriarchal systems so perfectly, that it left me both in awe and in fury. The fact that all of the women in this book were cornered by society into a certain frame of mind or situation is something that I believe every woman has experienced in her lifetime. The biographer yearns to have a child of her own, but she does not wish to marry and she panics as the clock ticks on her only chance. The student looks forward to college and a career, unburdened by thoughts of diapers and baby formulas. The mother aches for a few hours of solitude and free time away from her husband and children, but feels guilty for wanting her personal space. The homeopath wants to help people, regardless of what society labels her, but is considered a weird forest-hobo by her community and is ostracized. The explorer wants to learn about something she is fiercely passionate about and share her knowledge with the world, but can’t, because she’s a woman.
But aren’t we all labeled as something? Mother, daughter, wife, sister, student, teacher, girl, woman, good, bad… And as I devoured this book, I realized that even I label myself. When my own mother brings up the topic of grandchildren, suddenly, I want to discuss sock preferences or that one soup recipe she made once like, ten years ago. Is having children something we are programmed to want or is it something we want because we truly desire it? What if you don’t want to have children? Why is it that a single woman who is past “a certain age” (I don’t even know what this particular age is, as I can’t locate an expiration date on my forehead) is considered a spinster, while a man at that same age is called a bachelor? Who makes these rules? And more importantly, who has the right to make these rules?
The answer I gathered from this book is that every woman has the right to make those rules for herself, and I could not agree more. This book also left me with a million questions that I have never asked myself and a million more that I have asked too many times. The answers are different for me, just as they are different for you and every other woman in the world.
Are you even a woman if you don’t have a child? YES. Are you a woman if you choose your self, your career, your life, your dreams, your anything over having a child? YES. Is it okay to not know? YES. Is it okay to be uncertain? YES. Are you a woman if…? And there is no if.
This book is so important and I’m so glad I read it, because it was captivating and thought-provoking in the very best of ways. All of the uncertainties we tend to feel as women when we dare to reach outside that limited box of roles that society has given us come crashing down like little waves in this book, and I love it. There shouldn’t be a box of roles or outfits or jobs. There shouldn’t be an expectation or an expiry date. This book is a searing reminder that, no matter what you choose, it is your choice, and nobody has the right to take it from you. I strongly urge everyone to read this book, as it is a beautiful and meaningful look into what it means to be a woman and how our choices shape us. Your purpose does not come attached to your gender, and that is something that, sadly, always bears reminding in this jaded and unequal world of ours. So, please read this book, and tell your mothers, sisters, friends, crochet club, etc. to read this book. As always, happy reading!
*Thank you so much to HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction, The Borough Press for sending me an eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review*