New novel ‘Red Clocks’ presents a not-that-far-fetched dystopia

Like Margaret Atwood in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Portland author Leni Zumas’ new book describes a future both frightening and all too possible.

“Red Clocks”

by Leni Zumas

Little, Brown, 256 pp., $26

What’s remarkable about Leni Zumas’ new novel “Red Clocks” isn’t that the dystopia it presents is wildly imaginative but that it’s so close to what’s happening right now. It’s the day after tomorrow, not the distant future:

“The United States Congress ratified the Personhood Amendment, which gives the constitutional right to life, liberty, and property to a fertilized egg at the moment of conception,” Zumas writes. “Abortion is now illegal in all fifty states. Abortion providers can be charged with second-degree murder, abortion seekers with conspiracy to commit murder. In vitro fertilization, too, is federally banned, because the amendment outlaws the transfer of embryos from laboratory to uterus. (The embryos can’t give their consent to be moved.”

If that sounds far-fetched, it’s not. Personhood Amendments have made it to the ballot or through state legislatures in several states. Republicans attempted to add language allowing a fetus to qualify for federal college savings plans in the recently passed tax bill. House Speaker Paul Ryan favors adding a Personhood Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Thirty-eight states have fetal-homicide laws; 23 of those laws apply to conception, fertilization, gestation or post-fertilization.

Author appearance

Leni Zumas

The author of “Red Clocks” will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17, at Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle (206-624-6600 or

Roberta Stephens is one of five main characters in “Red Clocks,” a high-school teacher and a single woman caught in the wake of the new laws. She “[w]oke up one morning to a president-elect she…

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