on February 11, 2005
The book "Woman on the Edge of Time" by Marge Piercy could be called many things: thrilling, thought invoking, a sociological thriller, enthralling, and a good read. The book seems to draw in the reader to travel back to a time where poverty runs rampant through the streets of New York. You are drawn back to this time and introduced to a mid-lifed woman name Consuelo Ramos or most of the time referred to as Connie.
When the book begins Connie's niece is at the door after being beaten by her pimp Geraldo. And the book leaves you with the first time questioning Connie's sanity. When Dolly, the niece, before she enters Connie wants to make sure whether or not if a man is there still in her apartment and she says "I saw him or I didn't and I am crazy for real this time, she thought". This statement left me in the beginning of the book thinking "is she crazy like a mild schizophrenia?" Soon after Connie is beaten up by Dolly's pimp she is put into a mental hospital by the pimp. She has been there before except last time she was put there by child services for beating her daughter so hard that she knocked her across the room.
While in the hospital she begins to travel through time to a very distant future. She travels to a world in which community is very treasured and the people are very out of the ordinary. Traveling there through the before mentioned man in the apartment. This man's name is Luciente, and once traveling to the utopian world Connie learns that Luciente is not a man bit a woman. Luciente travels from the utopian world of her own to Connie's destitute world of the mental hospital quite frequently through the whole book and then Connie learns how to call them on her own by making it easier for them to bring her forward in time. This again left me thinking "wow this lady is a nut", it left me thinking this because in the future of Luciente's world they have all this technology for flying and creating babies in bottles but no mention of a time travel device it is always done by the mind.
As time goes on and Connie continues to travel back and forth form the mid- seventies to 2137 she is forced to be tested in the mental hospital on some sort of mind control by using electrodes to stimulate brain induced reactions such as: fear, pleasure, and anger.
The book can take any path or any reader if you as the reader enjoy science fiction then the time travel aspect to you will seem real and easily explainable. Also on that same level if you do not enjoy science fiction then you will find a thought invoking drama about a crazy lady who can control her own reality. But to me the book is not about time travel nor is it about an insane "Woman on the Edge of Time", it is about political and American values. The book is a warning that if we are to continue with war, drugs, and violence; then we are going to continue into the destruction of values and not receive this utopian society for having no transgressions and living peaceful and easy lives. And end the book the alternate world that we could end up with is shown by an accidental time travel in which Connie travels to a world completely opposite of that of Luciente's world. A world where prostitution is a respected job and a world in which you don't see the sun that often and that there are very odd divisions of social classes. So at the end of the book you are still left with the question of Connie's sanity but it is very evident in the book that it's more about how social classes are divided rather than the time travel and science fiction aspects of the book.
Overall the book is well written and provides a look into our present lives that we live through the eyes of a semi-feminist author in the mid 70's.
on May 23, 2002
Marge Piercy's wonderful novel, "Woman on the Edge of Time" is a classic glimpse of a utopian future. An ordinary working-class woman, struggling to stay afloat amid poverty and mental illness, falls in and out of an idyllic tomorrow. The characterizations of her, her sister, and other persona of the "real" world are drawn very well. So are the characters of the people who inhabit the future which she keeps visiting. I found the book a little hard to get into at first, but I recommend that folks give it a chance. Once you've waded in a ways, the warmth of the water (and of Piercy's humanity) will entice you to stay. Marge Piercy is a very good writer, as amply demonstrated by "Vida," "Gone to Soldiers" and "City of Light; City of Darkness." "Woman on the Edge of Time," is in the fine tradition of Sir Thomas More's "Utopia" or William Golding's "Lord of the Flies."
on January 15, 2007
This story resonates with anyone who enjoyed the message in Egalia's Daughter's or even the YA book, The Giver. It is not for the casual reader, as the time travel takes a bit to follow, but the emotive content is so superior, and the societal messages so clear, I think everyone should read this book at some point in his/her life. It is now one of my favorites, and the craft is so excellent, even a creative writer would love to examine its construction. A wonderful classic.
on January 1, 2007
I am a great fan of Marge Piercy's poetry - her skill at using simple and everyday language to capture everyday scenes and sensibilities in the inner and outer lives of strong women, and to shine upon them a sublime literary light - and so it was not difficult to convince me to break out of my usual reading, decidedly not science fiction, to spend time with this "time-traveling novel." That play on words, mind you, is quite intentional. I soon sensed, within the first pages, that this is the kind of story plotline (and the writing skill to make it succeed convincingly) that traverses time and retains meaning and interest, no matter the year. Some things change, some things never do.
Being familiar with Piercy's poetry and something of her own biography, I expected a feminist approach to the plot. Indeed, it was there, and this is why I was soon confident in my enjoyment of the novel, even if it did veer from my more typical reading choices. Whatever the genre, I like to read about strong and unique women. "Woman on the Edge of Time" has plenty, in the now and in the to be.
Consuelo (Connie) in the 1970s lives a life of poverty and abuse, when domestic violence is as common as air, and women survive all too often by selling themselves out as objectified beings, bodies without minds, without souls. A pimp beats up "his" women to maintain order, in this case, to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, and a scene of violence ensues, in which Connie is made the villain rather than the victim. She can say nothing to prevent herself from being institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital, called mad, whereas the male's voice, that of the pimp's, holds unquestioned weight. He has her out of his way to create more victims.
I couldn't help but draw parallels here with another literary classic, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey, and even some undertones of Margaret Atwood's "Handmaid's Tale," but Piercy succeeds in making this story her own. Connie strives to maintain her sanity by traveling in time to another life in 2137, assisted by future person (Piercy uses "per" as pronoun, thus avoiding gender designation of she or he in this future), Luciente, a kind of almost andrygenous being. In that future, she explores a life much more pleasing, if not utopian, and in series of trips, explores this future world in its treatment of relationships, the interchange of genders and generations, the workings of community and government, the balance between work and play, spiritual evolvement, and even the occasional war. For it is not utopia, but a constant work in progress, however more evolved than our current day, with humankind in an ongoing mode of self-improvement.
No less fascinating is a shorter description of a darker parallel of life in the future, when Connie misses her usual destination and lands instead in a future that could just as easily, one fears, evolve from our current time. In this future, women are even more objectified than they are today, creatures resembling comic book and Barbie doll fantasy proportions, created by plastic surgery, produced specifically and only for the erotic pleasures of men, becoming sexual slaves. Mind reading allows for no privacy, no chance of escape. A woman might only think of the possibility of escape, and already she is reined in and punished. It is a world of callousness and cruelty, domination of gender over gender, power and greed ruling all, happiness for none.
In the hospital, woven through the story, Connie struggles for her sanity, as the doctors in power rule out any possibility of what they cannot understand, puzzled by her episodes of "unconsciousness," and many in the ward are forced to undergo brain-altering surgery. Connie, too, undergoes repeated surgeries. Her attempts at escape, sometimes in mind but sometimes also in body, can be heartrending, as she comes so close, so close...
This is a story worth reading, if not for intriguing storyline, than as a philosophical treatise on what could be, what might be, what a future for humankind might hold if we approach it with understanding. Whether Connie truly travels in time or only in fantasy is perhaps least important of all. Those who pick it up as science fiction fans might be disappointed if seeking high tech descriptions and complex alien worlds; this is not Piercy's intent. She is far more interested in exploring the evolvement of humankind if all are allowed to pursue their best, towards a world of harmony and a caring community that works on all practical levels.
While I still prefer Piercy's poetry to this sampling of her prose (my first, but probably not my last), her skill and imagination to produce worlds that intrigue as well as enlighten is worthwhile reading.
on February 11, 2005
Connie, a Hispanic woman, lives in New York and experiences many hardships in her life. Claud, her blind husband, dies which leads to Connie drinking and eventually abusing her daughter, Angelina.
Dolly, her niece, is associated with a pimp named Geraldo. He treats Dolly like a prostitute and Connie despises him. An altercation takes place in the apartment one day and Connie ends up putting Geraldo in the hospital. He in turn has Connie sent to a mental institution but this is not her first time. The doctors treat all of the patients like crap and Connie cannot stand them.
She experiences numerous run ins with the nurses and doctors, changing hospitals, medicine, etc. Connie's thoughts start wondering and she meets Luciente from the future. She thinks she is time traveling but this is all in her mind. Her consciousness goes back and forth from reality in the ward to Luciente's world.
Luciente's world is very different from life in New York. Persons, the all purpose pronoun for their world, live in separate self sufficient communities. Racism, sexism, crime, pollution, etc. are not issues in this future world. Early adolescents go on expeditions alone in the wilderness to find a good name and to learn self sufficiency. Connie originally thought Luciente was male but later discovered she was female. She was muscular and the rest of the community was physically fit. There is no pressure to go into any career and everyone does what they are good at. They often change jobs, spend a good amount of leisure time, and have long debates as a community as different issues arise.
Connie is often confused by these different customs, but Luciente's world grows on her and she eventually lets her mind into the world many times a day. It is an outlet for her. While in Luciente's world the nurses look at her and think she is passed out and other times hallucinating.
Connie thinks about escaping and she does but she is eventually caught while eating breakfast in a low scale restaurant. She gets put into a stricter and higher level mental institution.
The patients are often guinea pigs for new technological advances in medicine that the brilliant doctors come up with. The doctors shave the patient's heads, drill into their skulls and mess with their brains supposedly trying to help them. In some cases the amygdala would be removed. Connie is determined to avoid this procedure. She convinces her brother Luis, but he referred Lewis, that she was stable enough to visit for Thanksgiving and the doctors agree to let her out for the weekend.
Marge Piercy also introduces another future world where machines rule. This world or Luciente's world are the possible outcomes to the future. Luciente is basically manipulating Connie into believing she is a weapon. She is to fight against the doctors who are trying to destroy the mind. Luciente wants his world for the future and he has to use Connie to get what he wants. Connie is brainwashed by the thoughts from Luciente and she also feels as if she is fighting for her own life. She is at war with the doctors.
Suicide seems to be a logical way out so she can prevent her brain from being tampered with. Her Catholic background preaches against such activity. When she returns from Thanksgiving she poisons the doctor's coffee with some type of brown poison. I look at this act as self defense. She eventually winds up back in the mental hospital but she did what she had to do and she is a fighter.
on February 11, 2005
A science fiction novel with a twist, "Woman on the Edge of Time," is a story of despair and unfortunate circumstances that allow the reader to really connect with the characters. Marge Piercy mixes in a utopian type world with the highly disturbing reality of life as we know it. Consuelo (Connie) Ramos, a 37 year-old Mexican-American, was submitted, for a second time, to the mental hospital after an unfortunate event where she tried to protect her niece from her pimp and ended up breaking his nose. Connie's life has been rough. Her lover dies, which causes her to misuse drugs (which causes her to hit her daughter and loose her to foster care). Trying to help the little family she has left causes her to be put back into the mental hospital. Each day for Connie is a struggle between living in the horrid conditions of the ward and drifting off into a utopian world of the future. Connie time travels to the future and becomes close friends with Luciente, a person from this futuristic world. Luciente's world has abolished gender roles, is completely un-materialistic, is highly advanced scientifically (although it doesn't seem so at first), and is based entirely on need, not want. Connie ends up spending more and more time in Luciente's world, and gets to know several of the people who live there.
This futuristic world seems strange to me, although I think it would definitely work, I don't think I would want to live there. Advanced science to the point where half of your memories are stored in a watch-like device that's on your wrist. Children are no longer conceived like we know it, but instead are produced in a tube. No different cultures, instead everyone pretty much has the same background. Worse of all there is no traditional families. Children have three mothers, no fathers, and at a young age are sent off on a mission to "find a name," and become an independent adult. It seems boring to point where I wouldn't know what to do with myself. It completely abolishes the fun of adolescence, which is an important period that everyone should be able to experience.
Connie is then faced with having to do experimental research at the hospital, and is faced with a choice of being mentally "killed" by the doctors, or killing the doctors herself. In a premeditated fit, Connie ends up killing several doctors, and in a funny yet disturbing way ends up being released from the hospital. In most circumstances, seeing a lunatic who has murdered would be disturbing, but in a way I was relieved that she was finally able to get her freedom after being put through all that she was.
This book is not the traditional "rough-life, kill myself" type of book. The rough life that Connie has had makes me have sympathy for her, and makes me want to help her. The fact that she was falsely admitted into the psychiatric hospital by her own family makes me angry, and I would probably go crazy if I was in her shoes. Her own family wants to get rid of her, and that alone makes me want to reach out and help her.
on January 28, 2005
This book was like a snowball rolling down hill to me. In the beginning, the book felt slow and small to me. I didn't know any of the characters or cared about the little bit of story I had read. As the snowball rolled further down the hill it got bigger. I got pulled into the story. The characters and their personalities gave me something to care for. The conflict intrigued me enough, keeping me turning the pages to see what would happen next. Would the main character, Connie, do what needed to be done? Was it all real? I had to know so I kept reading. In the end, the little snowball had morphed into a massive ball of sub-zero temperature destruction, steam rolling its' way towards the engrossing and gripping end. I suggest this book to anyone looking for a good sci-fi type read.
on December 28, 2014
I first read this book shortly after it was published and just finished re-reading it. I never forgot it and was curious as to how well it held up after all these decades. Still an excellent, absorbing read. I was struck by Piercy's vivid depiction of the rough justice doled out to poor people of color--an issue clearly still very much with us. The author was eerily prescient in anticipating progressive trends that have come to the fore in recent decades, including sustainability, locavore, low-on-the-food-chain eating, intelligent energy use, even the rising interest in 'tiny houses' and small intentional communities. Perhaps even more remarkable and somewhat chilling are her evocations of less positive trends such as 24/7 in-home access to violent and degrading 'entertainment' and the wrist-worn 'kenners' on which people are so dependent that they literally cannot function without them--smartphones, anyone? I was intrigued to discover that even the utopian future that Connie visits is far from perfect--her new friends have enlightened values but are still struggling with dark aspects of human nature. I had remembered it much more rosily and appreciated anew the complexity of the society she evoked. I was saddened and shocked by the book's ending; I had also remembered that completely differently--that Connie somehow is able to join Luciente and her other friends in Massapoiset for good at the last minute. I am still struggling with whether it was all 'real' (within the speculative fiction universe, of course) or a portrait of a rich mind in extreme duress--or if the whole elaborate, multifaceted story is really, as some readers have suggested, meant to be read as a metaphor for the issues facing humanity. In any event, it continues to haunt me and provides rich food for thought. Ms. Piercy, you are an amazing writer--would you consider a sequel?
on January 31, 2013
Connie Ramos has absolutely nothing going for her--she is female, Hispanic, poor, and overweight. She has been declared an unfit mother, and her child has been taken away from her by the state. The only two men she ever loved have both been killed. She has been committed to a mental hospital by her brother to get her out of the way because she has embarrassed the family by attacking her niece's abusive pimp. The hospital staff will not even listen to her explanation of events, instead heavily medicating her. A group of doctors wants to perform an experimental procedure, implanting some sort of device in her brain to improve her "mental health." She feels trapped and powerless, with no way to escape.
Then Luciente comes to her and shows her that a better life is possible if she and others like her are willing to fight for it. However, that utopia exists only in the future--Luciente is a time traveler from 2037. Connie can communicate with Luciente and travel to the future in spirit, so to speak, because her physical body always remains in the hospital even while she experiences idyllic interludes in the future, even making love with a man who reminds her very much of one of her lost loves.
The time travel device can be taken literally--that Connie really experiences the future and sees the solutions that society has evolved to address the economic, social, and racial problems of her time and place. Or the time travel can be taken as an escapist product of Connie's mind, which is addled by drugs and desperation. Perhaps Luciente is an idealization of Connie, if she could "find the light." Luciente's lovers Jackrabbit and Bee could be stand-ins for Connie's two lost loves. And their daughter Dawn could represent Connie's lost child.
It matters little if the time travel is literal or symbolic, because the purpose of the book is to point out the desperate plight of the disenfranchised--women, minorities, the poor, the different, the less-than-ideal--and to point to a better way of doing things and organizing society.
Connie's life is portrayed as a constant downhill struggle, as her efforts to improve herself are thwarted by one man after another. The two men who don't abuse her are destroyed by the power structure. It seems that the only way for a Hispanic to get ahead is to be male and to pretend to be white. The scenes in the mental hospital are chilling, picturing the humiliation and degradation endured by the powerless at the hands of almost universally non-caring staff.
In contrast, the future is a hippie's dream. Society has adopted a communal, agrarian way of life, each village feeding itself. Everyone is equal, with all taking part in the raising of crops and other labor, giving everyone time, also, to pursue lifelong learning and individual interests and passions. Cultural and racial differences are valued. Both males and females "mother," including breast feeding. Disputes are settled by talking things out. And they drink a little wine and smoke a little grass and practice a good bit of "free love." Who wouldn't want to live there?
This book was published in 1976, and it is intriguing, for sure, as to its ideas, but it can also be read as an interesting straight-ahead science fiction novel. It is somewhat dated, perhaps, not by the societal problems presented, which are unfortunately still relevant, but by the future solution. Despite some optimism in the late '60s and early '70s, I think few believe any longer that it is possible for people to live communally and unselfishly. And that's sad.
on November 28, 2010
I'm not quite sure how I stumbled on this book. It was written in the 70s and the present-day of the novel is the same era. The protagonist is Connie, a woman who has had a rough life and has bounced in and out of the psychiatric ward for a while...a situation that started when she did harm her daughter while on drugs but that seems prolonged by the failures of that system and by the trials of her life.
Early on in the book, she discovers the ability to commune with the future through Luciente. This future is fairly utopian but by no means perfect...there's a lot more freedom of people to follow their talents, community is a deep concept, gender is not as rigid but there is still war and Connie is unsure of some changes like babies being created and born in a lab. The future period is still in our future so it isn't quite like reading 1984 after the date, but you can still feel some difference reading it three plus decades after it was written. The book comments on society through the vision of the future and also comments on the psychatric system's failings (which can also serve as a general comment on the current society).
I enjoyed the book. The future vision was interesting and gave me a lot of thought...especally the concepts of family and gender. The present was disturbing, as it is meant to be. Connie is an interesting narrator...one does feel sorry for her and the hand life has dealt but she is far from perfect and they do not brush her flaws aside. I didn't find the present day prose overly remarkable but found the future language intriguing and I bet it was fun to create. On a totally random note, I saw a number of typos in the text (my copy seems to be a third printing...) which also made me think about the differences between the 70s and the 2010s (while spell-check isn't perfect, it would have caught things like "asid" for "said").
A worthwhile read, especially for leaving me with things to think about. I don't know, however, that I'd seek out one of Piercy's other novels since the style and writing didn't touch me...it was definitely the story and not the telling that I enjoyed. Given options, I'd be more at 3.75 stars.