Sunday, May 11, 2008

Woman on the Edge of Time

Finished reading my second Marge Piercy novel today, and wanted to jot down a few thoughts. I found Woman on the Edge of Time to be a surprising story on many levels.

It's the story of Connie Ramos, a woman who finds that she has the ability to project her mind through time to the future with the help of Luciente, a similarly gifted woman of the year 2137.

Or, it's the story of Consuela Ramos, a poor Hispanic woman who has been oppressed her entire life. By family, by men, by society, by institutional health care.

Or, it's the story of an egalitarian utopia where sexism has been eliminated along with masculine/feminine pronouns. Children are born in the laboratory so the biomechanics of reproduction are no longer a factor. Babies are shared among three male and female "mothers", but also raised by the community as a whole. Production is balanced with a view toward sustainability and all the people share the fruits of their labor. Sounds good, eh, comrade!

And in fact it is all these stories.

Initially I found the book interesting but a tough read. There was a lot of detail that struck me as rather dry, and my first reaction to the social issues was that it had a very 1970s feel (Woman on the Edge of Time was published in 1976). And the book is slow paced.

But by about halfway through I found that it felt less dry to me, and by then it no longer struck me as dated. Piercy definitely succeeds in contrasting two worlds: the institutionalized, mechanized world of over-consumption in which we lived 30 years ago, and still live today. And a utopian vision of equality and personal achievement, where woman's unique role in reproduction has been eliminated, removing the last barrier to equal participation with men.

Piercy draws her utopia with a fine point. Details include men who nurse children, as well as women. Polyamoury among both men and women. Conflict resolution, both personal and between elements of society, and even military service. It's all there.

Even more detailed is her description of life for an institutional mental patient. Painfully drab, dull, dehumanizing and lacking in freedom.

The conditions are painful and dreary, but the pace gradually accelerates throughout the second half of the book until finally I could hardly put it down.

In the end, I found Woman on the Edge of Time insightful and deeply affecting. Certainly not dated, it is perhaps even more relevant today than it was 30 years ago.

I'll give some quotes in a separate post.

Between this and the last Piercy I had enjoyed an excellent Sheri S. Tepper book -- hope to write about that one later.

Note: A much more competent review by Michelle Erica Green can be found here at Green Man Review.

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