Red Clocks

Leni Zumas’ Red Clocks has a lot going for it. A well-executed, 5-character structure with stories flowing in and out that manage to keep you hooked, short chapter after short chapter, curious about what will happen next to each character. The prose, and writing style, while sometimes a little too ham-handed (an explorer character who is the daughter of Minerva, a goddess of startegy and wisdom, not of exploration), reward readers with a sense of being in the hands of a writer who takes her craft seriously. And, finally, the novel builds a believable dystopian future, that remains well connected to our present and should send shivers down the spines of anyone not named Mike Pence.

However, I did find the book to be only moderately successful at treating its characters as a fully realized women, instead of just characters who serve the story Zumas wanted to tell. There are times when we see these 5 women as more than mothers, current or expecting, or at the mercy of a patriarchical society, but for the most part, they exist in relation to the men or the man-created structures around them. This can, at once, be the point of the book and a dissapointing thing about the book.

The other point of contention I had with the book was that it was based on Oregon, a state with a notorious white supremacist past, and features only one black character, and that too “off screen”, as it were. The dystopian reality Zumas depicts is the horrific present for many minority women and women living in the South today. Not every book can do everything, but the choices an author makes, show the relative value she places on some lives and experiences over others. It is one thing to warn readers about a future in which white women have to resort to witch-doctors in forests and crossing the border into Canada to terminate unwated pregnancies. It is another to remind readers that this sort of thing happens with regularity in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona today.