A biographer, a wise woman, a wife, a daughter, and an explorer form the core of Red Clocks, from author Leni Zumas. They seem to have only one thing in common—being women living in a country where reproductive rights are more and more limited.

Susan is a wife and mother whose dream of being a lawyer was truncated by life and kids. She wants to make a change. Somehow.

Mattie is a teenager who makes a mistake with a boy who doesn’t even know what happened. She needs to make a plan.

Ro is wishing for a baby, and fighting against the clock to have one. She’s also writing a book about Eivor, a groundbreaking but fundamentally unknown female explorer.

And Gin, whose herbal remedies are in demand while also being mistrusted. She’s trying to defend her right to offer alternatives to other women.

Zumas doesn’t spend time on how the U.S. became even more deeply conservative than it seems in reality. Presumably, she assumes her readers have enough imagination to figure that out. What she does is dive into the lives of each woman at this pivotal moment.

My conclusions

This is a story that depends on the author’s ability to knit the plot lines together into a pleasing display. Zumas uses many writing styles, including poems, lists, and diary entries. Chapters switch perspective like fall leaves change colors.

But there were also times the story felt like the inside of the cute knit beanie, rather than the outside. The jumble created a challenge for this reader, especially via audiobook.

I wish I could say I felt close to the characters, and invested in the outcome of their lives. But alas, I only wanted to know the way their stories ended. I didn’t feel much for any of them.

It’s hard to connect with characters when the author often just uses titles for them—the wife, the daughter, the explorer, the mender, the biographer. And none of the men in the story are referred to this way. Instead, they all have names. But perhaps the author wants to make a point—that women are often reduced to their roles rather than being seen as complex human beings.

I think Zumas wanted her readers to experience that complexity. Unfortunately, for me, the women were stereotypical and one-note.

In the flurry of recent feminist-ish speculative fiction, I liked this more than The Power. But less than Vox. And much, much less than The Handmaid’s Tale.