Monday, April 23, 2018

Red Clocks

Title:  Red Clocks
Author:  Leni Zumas
Publication Information:  Lee Bourdeaux Books. 2018. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0316434817 / 978-0316434812

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Born in 1841 on a Faroese sheep farm, The polar explorer was raised on a farm near In the North Atlantic Sea, between Scotland and Iceland, on an island with more sheep than people, a shepherd's wife gave birth to a child who would grow up to study ice."

Favorite Quote:  "... her okayness with being by herself - ordinary, unheroic okayness - does not need to justify itself to her father. The feeling is hers. She can simply feel okay and not explain it, or apologize for it, or concoct arguments against the argument that she doesn't truly feel content and is deluding herself in self-protection."

The theme of this book is women and the right to choose. The place is a small fishing town in the state of Oregon in the United States. The time is current day. The premise is that a Personhood Amendment grants the rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. Many medical practises such as abortion and in-vitro fertilization are seen to infringe on that amendment and deemed illegal. The rights of adoption are available only to those deemed a two-parent, typical family.

In this setting, the lives of five women present five different perspectives on these laws. Interestingly, the one viewpoint not presented is of a woman who would believe in the validity of these tenets. In other words, this book is clear on which side of the question it stands on.

Ro, the biographer, is a single woman trying to have a baby on her own. Susan, the mother, is already a mother to two and is looking for life beyond that role. Mattie, the daughter, is a young woman facing an unwanted pregnancy. She is growing up with loving, adoptive parent, and her birth story adds another facet to this conversation. Gin, the mender, is a hermit-like herbalist who is accused of being a modern-day witch. The fifth woman of this story is the anomaly. Eivør Minervudottir, the explorer, is the fictional nineteenth century polar explorer whose biography Ro is researching.

I appreciate the premise of this book. The conversation is an important one. I also appreciate the surreal environment the book manages to create. The surreal feeling mirrors the real life drama today's political environment has become. However, I am not entirely sure what to make of this book. The picture it conjures up is at the same time modern and medieval. It is at the same time plucked from the political headlines and post-apocalyptic and dystopian. The characters are given universal roles, and yet specific individuals with actual names and with lives that intersect.

I can point to two primary reasons why I end up not being the right reader for this book. First is the abundance of graphic descriptions. I understand that this is a feminist book about abortion. However, the same point can be made without medical and physical descriptions and the erotic fantasies and memories.

Second, the narrative of the book gets in the way of the story. This book feels like it is trying too hard to be literary and thought provoking. The use universal titles for the characters doesn't work for they are also given names. The jumping of the story line from one perspective to another with periodic, seemingly random jumps make it challenging to keep engaged. The writing style with occasional phrases and single words thrown in for good measure jars the story. I am left focusing on how the book is written rather than the story being told.

My parting thought as I leave this book ... I hope this remains fiction, although at times reality seems disturbingly close to this fiction.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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