This fictional tapestry weaves together five female characters scrabbling with the expectations and constrictions of a country where reproductive rights are severely curtailed. What could've been didactic instead becomes an enchanting ramble through the myths and mundanities of womanhood … Red Clocks ends up feeling like an enjoyable puzzle that is fundamentally unsolvable, some of its pieces playfully misplaced along the way. The fractured narrative leaves us to connect the dots between these disparate characters, all of whom make bleak compromises because they — like so many women throughout history — have so few options available to them.
Leni Zumas’s spry new novel, Red Clocks, does a nice job both of denaturing the world and of riffing on extreme versions of it ... Zumas showcases their experience of femaleness and, in so doing, asks us to rethink what it really means to be female in a world that’s written almost exclusively by men and, in particular, by men who know nothing—and care nothing—for women’s rights. If this sounds all too familiar, your dread reading this novel will be palpable … For all its polemics, Red Clocks is actually most notable for the brio of its prose—its excellent sense of timing and cadence. The novel moves at a clip. Often it’s downright jaunty. This has the benefit of ensuring that we never get stuck in any one place.
The ordinariness of the world that Zumas imagines is perhaps the most unsettling aspect of Red Clocks … As much as Red Clocks is about the repressive legal proposals that threaten women’s lives in America, the novel is equally astute on the cultural constraints that women contend with — and enforce on each other. They’re all subjected to grinding, fruitless competition over their careers and their sexuality … Her prose sports a kind of rawness that’s really the fruit of subtle artfulness. She’s flexible enough to reflect each woman’s differing concerns and personality, from the high schooler’s fear and earnestness, to the mother’s conflicted depression and the hermit’s earthy insight. Her phrasing stays exquisitely close to these minds, not quite stream of consciousness, but shadowing the confluence of anxiety and rationality they all harbor.
The publishing industry has been awash in explicitly feminist dystopic fiction. Intricate and alarming, Leni Zumas’ riveting second novel, Red Clocks, arrives just in time to ride that wave into 2018 … Lit up with verbal pyrotechnics and built with an admirably balanced structure, Red Clocks is undeniably gorgeously written. But the overdone tropes — witch hunt-style prosecution for providing abortions, aggressively thwarted attempts to flee to Canada — are enough to make one wonder: How much feminist dystopic fiction can audiences read?
Zumas has a perfectly tuned ear for the way measures to restrict women’s lives and enforce social conformity are couched in the moralizing sentimentalism of children’s imagined needs ... [a] lyrical and beautifully observed reflection on women’s lives ... If there is a criticism to be made of this highly absorbing novel, it is that it feels perhaps a shade too contemporary, and never quite reveals the horrors that would surely follow if the pre-Roe v. Wade days were to repeat themselves ... Zumas is a skillful writer, expertly keeping each of her characters in balanced motion, never allowing one to dominate the rest.
Red Clocks, Leni Zumas’s fierce, well-formed, hilarious, and blisteringly intelligent novel, is squarely a piece of Trump-era art, a product of the past two trying years in which the main players either brag about sexual assault or won’t even associate with women to whom they aren’t married. The book is loudly, unapologetically political ... This is all so intricate and well-done that every small connection sets off a tiny spark of delighted epiphany ... Buoying this entire novel is Zumas’s writing, which handles both the down-to-earth and the sublime with the same breathtaking accuracy ... This reader felt seen.
The dialogue is so quick and multilayered as to take one’s breath away ... The powerlessness and fury of women find an outlet in their spoken protests, their pleas to be heard by idiotic doctors, husbands who cannot see their marriages unravelling. Zumas elucidates, in virtuosic prose, the struggle to be valued running like a power line under every incarnation of feminism. Her talent is electric. Get ready for a shock.
The Biographer. The Daughter. The Wife. The Mender. The Explorer. Leni Zumas refers to her protagonists by these descriptors, invoking the reductive distance from which women are viewed in a patriarchal society … Each woman explores her sense of self and what it means to be selfish or selfless about her desires and ambitions … Zumas plays with extremes, exposing the inner hypocrite in everyone, including the reader. With spare prose that sets a tone as chilly and bleak as the Oregon coastal setting, Zumas doesn’t shy away from the grotesque while presenting a tale that’s haunting, thought provoking and painfully timely.
It’s a busy novel, and a brainy one, built more on character than plot. Zumas, who teaches at Portland State University, has a lovely way with a sentence and a sharp understanding of how women can be jealous and supportive of each other in equal measure. The coastal setting is vividly rendered, as is the everyday reality of doctor appointments, dirty dishes and broken dreams.
The cleverness of Zumas’s narrative structure is that it allows readers to understand the characters both from their own perspective and as they exist in the minds of others ... Red Clocks instead is deeply, intentionally personal. Rather than trafficking in sweeping generalizations or one-size-fits-all dictates, it focuses on the uniqueness of all of its characters, who are nevertheless linked by the immutability of their bodies. The familiarity of the book’s world, just a step removed from our own reality, is the most shocking thing about it.
As with any dystopian fiction, Red Clocks constructs terror by revealing the plot's speculation is grounded in reality ... Red Clocks centralizes dissimilar reproductive justice narratives and successfully avoids essentialism ... Red Clock's fails in its narrow characterization as white, upper-middle-class, cis women are the focus ... Despite missing significant feminist cues, Zumas' novel is a helpful contribution to popular culture's overlap with politics.
The writing in Red Clocks is by turns lovely and overblown ... The use of lists and sentence fragments in the place of narrative is also problematic. Used in conjunction with such an emotionally driven topic, this writing strategy renders Red Clocks strangely cold and emotionless. None of the characters, aside from Ro, seem invested enough in their own individual dramas to flesh out their feelings ... Zumas’ sophomore novel is mildly interesting, but ultimately misses the mark.
Zumas imagines a palpable, powerful alternate reality … Zumas manages a loose yet consistently engaging tone as she illustrates the extent to which the self-image of modern women is shaped by marriage, career, or motherhood. Dark humor further enhances the novel, making this a thoroughly affecting and memorable political parable.
Zumas is a lyrical polymath of a writer: she loves wordplay and foreign terms, she has an ear for dialogue, and she knows an impressive amount about herbal healing, Arctic exploration, and the part of the U.S. her story is set in, its ‘dark hills dense with hemlock, fir, and spruce,’ its ‘fog-smoked evergreen mountains, thousand-foot cliffs plunging straight down to the sea.’ A good story energized by a timely premise but perhaps a bit heavy on the literary effects.