In a matter of weeks, the 28th Amendment is to take effect–the Personhood Amendment–which grants full legal rights to embryos and only allows adoptions to married couples.
The novel is five stories that are interwoven in a small, rural Oregon village. The first voice is Roberta’s. She’s a history teacher at the local high school and is struggling to finish a biography of the second voice, Eivør–a 19th-century woman from the Faroe Islands who becomes an explorer and scientist. Roberta is also desperate to have a child (or adopt one before the new law goes into effect). But she’s single, 42, and isn’t having any luck with artificial insemination.
A 15-year-old student of Roberta’s, Mattie, is the third voice. When she finds herself pregnant and has no viable options for an abortion, her link to Roberta is tested and transformed. The fourth voice is Susan’s, a housewife who dropped out of law school when she married. She’s married to one of Roberta’s colleagues at the high school, has two children, and is miserable.
And the final voice is one around whom much of the story will revolve. Gin Percival is a recluse and a healer (“the mender”) by way of natural medicines. She’s arrested and tried for attempted murder, supposedly having helped to terminate a pregnancy for the school principal’s wife. It becomes, literally, a witch hunt, as much of the village believes she’s responsible for everything from abortions to affecting the economic fortunes of the fisherman and sailors.
I thoroughly enjoyed the way Zumas separates this into five voices. The one I wish she would have developed even more is Eivør’s. Her story of trying to break into a male-dominated world of arctic exploration and science is fascinating and I would have liked even more of it. But the way the five stories intertwine is terrific.
I’ve seen some mixed reactions to Red Clocks, but now that I’ve read it, I think some of them are misguided. One consistent criticism is that it’s like The Handmaid’s Tale, but that it’s NOT The Handmaid’s Tale. Yes, it’s true that both address a repressive society where women’s rights and reproductive freedoms are under attack, but the similarity pretty much ends there. And I think it’s unfair to judge a book by what it isn’t.
What the novel is is compelling and timely reading and a masterful use of an interesting narrative technique to blend all the stories into a single important narrative. It’s very much worth your time.