Hannah Payne has committed adultery with respected preacher Aidan Dale, and in Jordan’s postmodern world such transgressors are repigmented in a way that suits their crime—through the miracle of modern chemistry. Hannah is turned bright red. Again reminiscent of Hester Prynne’s heroism in The Scarlet Letter, Hannah refuses to name her fellow adulterer, so she bears much of the burden of her guilt and her punishment. The bleak world that Jordan has created has turned back Roe v. Wade, and all abortions are equated with infanticide, so technically she’s a murderer as well as an adulterer. (In one clever episode, Hannah is forced to make a cloth doll of her dead child, whom she names “Pearl.”) Because Hannah has had a strict religious upbringing, she constantly weighs her “evildoing” against the “rightness” of her deep love for the minister. We trace her journey through various stages of reclamation, starting with a spartan and severe halfway house run by a minister and his domineering wife, whose interest in Hannah’s case seems both perverse and voyeuristic. After Hannah runs away from this establishment, she’s caught up in a journey that she hopes will eventually lead her back to her family and to Aidan, but the politics get complicated when she links up with some radical feminists who support the right to choose and whose aim in life is to help those they feel have been wrongfully stigmatized. Things start to become even more sexually muddled when Hannah begins to have feelings for one of the feminists and has a brief fling.
Jordan manages to open up powerful feminist and political themes without becoming overly preachy—and the parallels with Hawthorne are fun to trace.