Marge Piercy: Woman on the Edge of Time/Readings

ISBN: 1556441673
ISBN 13: 9781556441677
By: Marge Piercy

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About this book

Connie Ramos, a woman in her mid-thirties, has been declared insane. But Connie is overwhelmingly sane, merely tuned to the future, and able to communicate with the year 2137. As her doctors persuade her to agree to an operation, Connie struggles to force herself to listen to the future and its lessons for today....

Reader's Thoughts


3.5 stars. Piercy's novel, as many other reviewers have noted, is somewhat dated for the contemporary reader - written in 1976, her vision of the haves and the have-nots resonates strongly with Marxist-leaning feminist politics emergent at that moment. We may think ourselves much more inclined to seek out the nuances of sociopolitical oppression today (though isn't this--the sense that "we" are somehow more developed than those who have come before us--one of the interesting tensions between the protagonist and her notions of the future's 'primitivism'?), but Piercy's understanding of Connie Ramos' social location is more or less cut-and-dry. Connie's limitations (being an immigrant, being Chicana, having a history of drug abuse and pickpocketing, etc.) are used not to develop a multi-faceted ethical characterization but to mark her, indelibly, as a 'victim' of the world. Which is to say: Connie and her world allegorize the problems of 70s American culture, and work to suggest what may happen if we don't 'fix' these social issues. This makes for a quick and engaging story, though perhaps one that feels at times a bit didactic, a bit programmatic. Piercy's vision of the possible future is perhaps the most absorbing portion of the book. Where many speculative or dystopian/utopian narratives underscore things like genetic tampering, global industrialization, technological slavery,&co&co, Piercy imagines a sort of sideways utopia in which these very possibilities also have their productive uses. Genetic modification facilitates, for example, the breeding of 'abnormalities' (that is, breeding elements of chance in plant life that works alongside evolutionary principles in order to replenish the earth), and ensuring the proliferation of possible racial & ethnic bodies (cultures, in Piercy's world, are chosen by affinity rather than by birth). The technological enhancement of the body--or at least the health of the body--allows for longer laboring bodies (children and the elderly) so that everyone is able to work less day by day. Duties are shared by all, children are born outside of the uterus and 'co-mothered' by three figures. Gender is more or less null as a category of identity (everyone is referred to as "person" or "per" rather than "him/her/she/he"). But this does not mean that the generalized human struggle is over; battles occur, killers are killed by their tribes, everyone does not, in short, 'just get along.' This is perhaps the strength of Piercy's futuristic worldview: that even in an ostensibly utopian society, Piercy still recognizes that stasis would be little more than death. On the whole, the writing is adequate; the story becomes really engaging after about a hundred pages; the future is truly fascinating. Connie was for me sometimes difficult to really sympathize with, largely because I thought of her tale as more like a fable than an individual experience. Definitely worth a read for anyone interested in feminist fantasy or sci-fi, feminist lit, those who enjoy reading about women and madness. Though I found it a chore at times, I'm really quite glad I added this one to the shelf.


i read this book in a day because it was for college. it's really good though. it's about this lady who sometimes travels into this utopian-egalitarian future. she lives in an insane asylum so you're not supposed to know if she's crazy or really time traveling. the end is a surprise.i thought it was really interesting to read about what this author thought a feminist utopia would look like. i thought it was fun to agree or disagree with aspects of it and i unintentionally started designing my own utopia. makes me kinda think that we could NEVER find a way to organize/govern ourselves that would work for more than 10% or so... what do you think friends?

Cyndy Aleo

I was first introduced to the novels and poetry of Marge Piercy when I was in college and very focused on the writings of women, especially feminist writings. In going through a bunch of books I had been keeping at my parents' house, I discovered boxes of books I probably haven't read in over ten years, one of which was Woman on the Edge of Time.::: Edge of Time, Edge of Reason :::Connie Ramos, the protagonist, is a middle-aged Hispanic woman living in poverty in New York City. Already committed to a mental hospital once after abusing her daughter during a depressive episode, she has lost everything: her daughter, the man she loved, and a life that was on the border of normal, even if it was based on her significant other's pickpocketing. Her niece Dolly arrives, having been beaten up by her pimp, and interrupts Connie in the middle of a conversation with Luciente, a person who claims to be from the future. Luciente disappears as Dolly enters Connie's apartment, and when Dolly's boyfriend/pimp comes after Dolly with a "doctor" to perform an abortion on her, Connie attacks him to help Dolly, and winds up back in Bellevue for her troubles.Dolly backs up her pimp's story that Connie attacked both of them, and Connie is transferred to another mental hospital, Rockover, where she continues her conversations with Luciente, eventually going over mentally to the future to experience their world, meeting Luciente's friends and family, and experiencing their utopian society, where men and women are equal and share in all tasks, from farming to defense. Everyone shares resources, people own very few possessions, and their world is a welcome respite from the reality of the mental hospital where Connie is literally a prisoner, soon to be subjected to a medical test where a device is implanted in her brain to control her.As Connie spends more and more time with Luciente, she longs for a world that won't keep her down, even as she balks at some of the things that women gave up to have totally equal status: live birthing and sharing breastfeeding duties with men, who "comother." She also learns that Luciente's people are fighting a war to maintain their utopian society, and that Connie herself must fight to help them attain their reality, for there are many possibilities, and their utopia is only one of them.::: A Book Before Its Time :::Woman on the Edge of Time was first published in 1976, in the center of the Women's Rights Movement. In 1976, the Supreme Court upheld a decision in General Elec. Co v. Gilbert that a woman had the right to unemployment benefits during her last trimester of pregnancy, and the year before, in Taylor v. Louisiana, states were denied the right to prevent women from serving on juries because of their gender. The concept of a utopian society where all people were exactly equal must have seemed even more incredible.The novel is one that people seem to either love or hate. I've read reviews where some think it is too feminist, while others criticize Connie as a stereotype: overweight, poor, and Hispanic, while her brother Luis (who goes by Lewis) has become a success only by blending in with white society, and who has a succession of "Anglo" wives as he moves up society's ladder. Her commitment to the hospital is as much an effort for Luis to be rid of his poor past as it is to help Connie.The scenes in Matapoissett are especially vivid, with detailed descriptions of societies who choose culture based on the village they live in and not what they are born into, where there are no class distinctions, and where every person's talents and abilities are valued.Piercy also includes a glimpse of another possible future that Connie visits accidentally. This scene has been mentioned as a precursor to cyberpunk, showing a futuristic society much like that of William Gibson's novels. Connie sees a society in which women are nothing more than objects, and the class division is much greater than it is in her present, and decides to align herself with Luciente's society; to prevent the other from occurring no matter what the cost.::: Still Timely? :::While some of the plot points are dated, including how much money would be needed in present society to accomplish much of anything, the overall message of the novel still has a great deal to offer in terms of the overall worth of the individual over class and gender, as well as the treatment of the poor and mentally ill. The sections with the utopian society along make a wonderful tale, even if the reader is never sure whether they are a product of Connie's mental illness or a true reality. Almost thirty years later, this novel is still a riveting read. This review previously published at Epinions:


At last - a book I've been meaning to put on the wish list and that's on one of my group's Reads next month. (Even better - my library has a copy in house!)************************Rating: 3.3-3.5 starsIf the last two novels I had read before this had been Paul McAuley's The Quiet War and Bruce Sterling's The Caryatids then I may have nudged my rating into the 4-star category but they weren't. Instead they were Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes, Mr. Fortune's Maggot and Summer Will Show, and Piercy's writing style suffered by comparison (IMO, of course).Another strike against the novel was that I wasn't able to "get into it" for the first 100 pages or so.However: It got better. The writing, while never on the level Warner seems to reach effortlessly, did improve and there were some scenes that did leap off the page. And after Chapter 4, it became easier for me to empathize with Connie and enjoy her trips to the world of 2137.One of my groups is reading the book this month (March 2010) so I'm going to hold off on a more thorough (and spoiler-laden) review until later this month, hoping to get some insights and different POVs from the discussion threads.************************Woman on the Edge of Time (WOTEOT or Woman) is an interesting if not especially well written entry in the utopian/dystopian genre. It describes a future Earth where hierarchies have disappeared, gender roles are nonexistent, communities live in sustainable harmony with their environments and people realize their potentials. (Some people commented in the reading thread that it seemed dated in places because it was written in the '70s but I found its interest in the environment, war, out-of-control technology and social pressures to conform very contemporary.) The future isn't perfect. There's still the specter of a war against the remnants of the earlier machine, exploitative civilization (i.e., us - the 20th Century). But that culture only clings to a few enclaves on Earth and some space stations.We find out about this future through the psychic journeys of Consuelo (Connie) Ramos, a middle-aged Chicana whose life has been stifled by all the problems the future has solved. The promise of a better life was quashed when she had to drop out of college after only 2 years, having gotten pregnant by her first husband. When another lover, Claud (the only decent relationship Connie ever had), dies, she descends into a haze of depression and alcohol, loses her daughter and spends some time in a mental institution. When she tries to protect her niece Dolly from her pimp/boy friend, Connie winds up in an institution again because she's a "threat" and prone to violence. Just prior to this, Connie had been visited by a vision of Luciente, who turns out to be from 2137. Connie is a prime "receiver," and can travel with Luciente to the future, where she has a physical existence and can interact with the people she meets there in a limited way.Meanwhile, as Connie learns about the future, in the present she and her fellow inmates are threatened by a scientist who wants to experiment with brain surgery to "cure" them.For me, the selections of the novel set in the mental ward were the most affecting. Piercy manages to generate a real feeling for the helplessness and despair that its inmates feel as their lives are destroyed by the callous indifference of the staff, mental and physical abuse, and the determination of the doctors to try out their pet theories about mental health. The authors uses the future to highlight these cruelties in comparison as well as other issues that resonate today - the environment, gender conflict, war, individuals vs. community, and others.I would argue that, in the end, the future Connie visits is a hallucination that her mind constructs to give her the tools she needs to finally act against her oppressors. The ending is poignantly bleak - her rebellion is no more than a passive-aggressive attack against her immediate enemies - the doctors tormenting her and her friends. Connie manages to avoid further brain surgeries but is unable to escape her imprisonment, and ends up institutionalized for life. There's a glimmer of hope that her action may have allowed her friend Sybil to escape but the reader is left in the dark about that; and there's no certainty that Luciente's future is the real one as she has pointed out earlier that her reality is merely a possibility.I give WOTEOT a qualified recommendation. I enjoyed it eventually and found a lot to admire and hope for in Piercy's vision of the future, and I would certainly recommend it to the utopian/dystopian reading crowd.

Lisa Vegan

The most important thing to know about this book is that it was first published in 1976. This is such a late 1960s-early-mid 1970s story! It’s funny because part of it takes place in the mid 70s and part takes place in the 22nd century. The 22nd century appears as though imagined in the 1970s. So, the future seems dated somehow. I suspect I would have thought it was brilliant if I’d read it over three decades ago. Now, I cringed quite a bit and thought it was unintentionally humorous at times.The story is about a woman in the 1970s who’s a mental patient (it did remind me a bit of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) but she can communicate with those in the 22nd century. Those in the 22nd century she has the most contact with are still at war but otherwise are living in an almost utopia. The author seems to say a lot about an egalitarian society, communal living, sexism and class and racism, much about the environment; quite a bit about computers. It’s a cautionary tale and must have seemed quite impressive back in 1976.I loved the language imagined 150 or so years into the future, how English evolved, done in a way that makes use of the vernacular of the 1960s and the 1970s; it’s adapted from that time. It doesn’t work that well in 2010 but it was splendidly constructed, and I enjoyed revisiting the time of three and a half decades ago.It took me about 50 pages to start enjoying the book but then I had times when it was difficult to put down. (I did really want to read this: I got first one moldy library copy then another identical edition that was also just as moldy, but I’m glad that I read it.)I can’t say too much about it so I don’t give anything away, but I found the ending somewhat unsatisfying, but I think that the author was very deliberate about how she ended it.I wasn’t sure whether to give it 3 or 4 stars. I opted to give it 4 because the story was told in such a creative way.

Megan Baxter

There were times when I was so frustrated with the main character. She was driving me crazy. She was walking through an entirely different world and assuming everything was the same. I realized why this was bothering me - I was wanting and expecting her to react more like a science fiction reader. (And many science fiction characters.)Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

Emily S

This book is an all-time favorite, although I think it's got one of the worst titles ever. The title is too simple for the story, which is incredibly intriguing, fantastical, inspirational and gripping. I think of this book often and contemplate the ideas that spin from it. It was written in the 1970s and still maintains exceptional and advanced poignancy in our current socio-environmental state. I greatly admire the use of instable time lines and the blur of inner and outer awareness and characters. Very well crafted and geniusly complex. I highly recommend it to all.


This is one of my favorite books and one that had a pretty profound influence on me. I guess you could call the future society she imagines a "feminist utopia" (as I've seen in reviews on this site). When I read it for a Comparative Literature class I was impressed by the way the family unit and community itself were structured and functioned. And its really stuck with me a long time and seems to have grown with me subconsciously. I've read it a couple times since and the "utopia" has seemed a little less ideal but still this book has lots of interesting ideas and a good story as a backdrop.


70's feminist tentative-utopia. As that genre goes, i really like this one. It comes more from the gender fluid/ androgyny positive side of things than the essentialist "women are more nurturing shit", which i liked. And i liked that the main character was a mad woman and that madness was well explored, if slightly simplistically at times. I don't like it's anti-cityness or certain aspects of uniformity that it espouses, but it's pretty tolerable for the traditions it adheres to. Those traditions are, ultimately, part of a history i respect and am grateful for.

Ben Babcock

I'm ambivalent about this book. The best way to describe my reservation with Woman on the Edge of Time is that I was never comfortable suspending my disbelief. I tried to make myself willing to go where Marge Piercy was taking me but never quite got there. Although the book steadily improved from its chaotic but very dull beginning, it never involved me in the way I require to get much satisfaction from reading. In the end, I was reading the book to finish it instead of because I was eager to find out what happened next—I was not invested in the fate of Connie or Luciente. Piercy's utopia is intriguing and creative—and therein lies the problem.Woman on the Edge of Time is a good example of how one can take a concept (in this case, a utopian society) and overdo the trope to the point where it distracts from the story one is trying to tell. Through the unique interaction of present (well, the 1970s) with a possible future, Piercy weaves a story of power and revolution. Her protagonist is one of the powerless, the poor, the oppressed. Society is "against" her. Her only hope lies in her ability to envision something potentially better.There's a difference between having a detailed portrayal of a utopia and an effective one. My new gold standard is probably The Dispossessed . The key requirement is that the description of utopia itself doesn't get in the way of storytelling, and I'm not convinced that requirement is met here. Authors often take license with the imagined future, especially when it is compared with their present. Alone, any of the various concepts that Piercy injects into the future—conflict between the ecologically-aware and the technology-crazed sides of society, reproduction via bottle babies, a sort of non-hierarchical representative-by-lottery democracy, the natural evolution of language and dialect—are interesting and a fine basis for a utopia. Together, they're overwhelming. Piercy's utopia is too crowded.In contrast, Connie's present is far too simple a world. We're supposed to sympathize with Connie's misfortunes, feel shocked at what the doctors at her asylum are doing when it comes to running experiments on patients. The explanations that the doctors offer Connie when she protests that she doesn't belong in a mental hospital are always curt, snide—it's all very one-sided. Connie's brother, father, and niece are all very unhelpful. It is almost enough to make the sceptic in me wonder if Connie is in fact more far gone than she believes, and the whole time travel part of the book is a delusion. I'm forced to conclude that's not the case, for Piercy never explores this avenue explicitly, except for one particular scene that doesn't confirm the delusion hypothesis. Connie's visits to the future are for the benefit of inspiring her to alter her present.I am of two minds on this book. Ben the Philosopher appreciates what Piercy is trying to do, considers her utopia and Connie's plight, and contemplates the power struggles and social conflict philosophy underpinning this book. Yet Ben the Reader professes no emotion, no feeling stirred by the story. A book may have the most profound themes ever imagined, but if they don't move me, I cannot in good conscience commend the book. Still, I can say of Woman on the Edge of Time that it strives for greatness, and only in failing does it find mediocrity. Better to strive and fail than just aim low, and for that I can recognize a sincere effort if not a satisfactory one.


Hands down one of my all time favorite books - I'm certain some of that has to do with the point in my life during which I read it, however it shall always remain an ultimate favorite. The issues the Ms Piercy so deftly addresses are both the main focus of the story and completely secondary, almost an after thought. . . I never got the feeling of being preached at, yet so many important, and delicate, subjects were addressed throughout this novel. Mental illness, racism, gender equality (or rather inequality), socio-economic injustices - all these and more are deftly covered in this touching story of a woman struggling to make her way in a world where she starts with multiple strikes against her simply by the color of her skin and the fact that she was born female rather than male.This story switches between a present day world in which we live - with all the messes that actually exist in the "real" world - and a utopian future that is on the brink of destruction (fom the very same dangers that got us to the mess we are currently in). This novel presents some interesting ideas of how we could live, versus how we are living, raising the question of if we are living or simply struggling to continue to exist.While this book may sound like a very heavy, possibly dry read, it is anything but. Once you pick it up you will be hard pressed to set it down until you have finished it. This is a definite 'not to be missed' read!

Mquin Quintana

This book could be good. Could. I have to admit, I read it to page 150 and stopped. The main character is a beat-up and bruised 40 year old Chicana living in New York. She is dead broke poor, has been beaten on and mistreated by men numerous times, and disliked herself so much at one point that she beat her 4 year old daughter (whom she saw as part of herself). She was put in a mental institution numerous times; the second time for smashing in the nose of her niece's pimp after he had beat up her niece. In the mental institution, she dreams that she can access a utopian society in the year 2174(?) via a "sender" living in that time, Luciente. There, she sees what a society that has moved beyond hegemonic gender roles, colonialism, and capitalist competition could be like. The book could be good, if the storyline wasn't so long-winded and unbelievable. Plus, the only really positive male character in the novel is one of Consuelo's dead lovers, who was a blind black blues musician. But he got killed in jail while participating in a Hep-C experiment that could have got him released if it didn't kill him. Unbelievable. Is there anything NICE about 1974, when the book was written? Not according to the author.

Emma Radford

This is the second time I have read this book. I rarely reread, but I'm so glad to have revisited this one. Piercy is a powerful writer. She poses so many philosophical and moral dilemmas. I love the contrast of supposedly utopian and dystopian settings, offset by a perhaps unreliable narrator. The ending is ambiguously clever and leaves you reeling. A must-read!


I need to reread this. I've thought about it often since reading it the first time. I especially always think of Piercy's word "per" as a singular gender neutral third person pronoun whenever I hear myself awkwardly saying "he or she" or (shudder) "they" to mean the same thing. I remember loving the story and thinking about how interesting and well-thought out all of the utopian ideas were. Aug 2010I reread this book hoping for more enjoyment - not that it's worse on the second pass but I got so damn depressed thinking about how our world is really messed up compared to the future Connie visits. May 2011Reread for the third time. This book makes me so sad. It also makes me want to be a better person. And it makes me wish we had more beauty in our lives, like the people of Mattapoiset do with their celebrations of death, holidays, the way they work, they way they play...


** spoiler alert ** This is one of those books you either buy into, saying, yes, what a wonderful world it could be, or you think, what a load of shit, piled high and steaming. This is utopia as seen through the eyes of a fourth-grader, except that it was written by a grown woman taking a swing at science-fiction and missing big-time. The protagonist is a woman and Latina, which ought to make her automatically bullet-proof against any criticism, intelligent or not, but I never bought into how she ended up being oppressed in the first place unless being a woman and Latina automatically makes you oppressed. Since any happy-ending would be entirely out of character with the book (or with being a woman and Latina), the ending was fairly obvious, especially to anyone who'd seen "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." The utopia was impossibly good, the real world was impossibly bad, both were laid on thick, and the victimization was complete. One of those books which doesn't make you feel bored so much as angry for insulting your intelligence and wasting your time.

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