In this speculative fiction light-dystopia, the Personhood Amendment has been passed and now abortion and IVF are illegal. Leni Zumas creates four pretty stereotypical characters for us to follow as they navigate this world that’s seemingly futuristic but also seems somehow rooted in the past. I got this book as my January 2018 Book of the Month and FINALLY read it, and when I did I flew through it. Overall, I was captivated by this book but I do understand a lot of the qualms people have had with it. I love a good fertility dystopia and multiple POVs, and this book had both in plenty.
This story is told in five POVs, but only four of them feel real. There’s the biographer, Ro, who is a forty-something history teacher without a man who desperately wants a baby but is running out of options since a new law is about to go into effect banning adoption by single individuals. Then there’s the mender, Gin, who is basically the forest witch. Gin is in her thirties and provides herbal remedies for all the lady problems you can imagine, including pregnancy. The wife, Susan, is pretty much every wife in books, unhappy with her marriage and stressed out by her two kids and considering an affair with one of her husband’s coworkers. The daughter, Mattie, is knocked up and can’t even drive yet by a guy who seemingly doesn’t care about her at all. She’s adopted herself but doesn’t want to tell anyone about the baby, though she doesn’t know how she’ll be able to handle the problem. Then, interspersed between each of the other chapters is quips and vocabulary and musings and tiny bits of Eivenor, a female Arctic explorer who the biographer Ro is writing a book about. The way the characters interact with each other and the world around them, but they do feel kind of stereotypical. A single woman who wants a kid but not a man, an unhappy wife with a husband who doesn’t help out, a forest witch (yet somehow this is set in the future) and a knocked up teenager who seemingly didn’t know birth control exists or what a condom was.
A lot of the critics of this book talk about how the unique writing style and the reliance on sentences like “The biographer knew it was too late” or “She turned to the wife with disdain” distance the reader from the characters and make them hard to really dive into. The biographer, Ro, is clearly the center point of the novel and I felt like I knew and cared about her most, but I did still feel that distance. Maybe that’s why I was invested in the book for the plot and kind of didn’t enjoy the last forty or so pages after the “verdict.” It felt like the plot was pretty much over and we were exploring the characters still, but I was checked out. I pretty much read this in one go until the verdict and then went to sleep and picked up the rest of the book later.
All of this being said, I enjoyed this book. I really did. Gave it 4 stars on Goodreads and everything, because I was compelled to keep reading and that means something for me. I love speculative fiction and fertility dystopians, but this didn’t feel as dystopian as a lot of other books I’ve read. It’s set in the very very near future, it seems, and the whole forest witch element makes it feel old-timey as well. It’s not science fiction-y at all and very character focused, so if you’re interested in seeing how these more “cookie cutter” character types can handle an imagined post-abortion world, you’ll find this book interesting. I’m pro-life and thought this was an interesting imagination of what a lot of the left thinks will happen when Roe v Wade is overturned. I don’t necessarily agree with some of the imaginings, obviously, but I think the story is told well.