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

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.


I'm wavering between 4 and 5 stars. I really, really enjoyed the story and the writing, and I was totally absorbed. So, even though the book has flaws, I rounded up to 5.Books I couldn't help think of while reading Woman on the Edge of Time:*The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Treatment of poor minority women, and issues of consent)*One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Who's crazy in the loony bin?)*My Lobotomy (Memoir from a former patient who had a forced lobotomy when he was a child)*To Say Nothing of the Dog (Time travel!)*Hominids (Tons of parallels with this time-travel future utopia - and gadgets from the future.)*The Handmaid's Tale (Post-modernist dystopia with an open-ended ending.)


(6/10) This is a weird one. Piercy alternates between a dystopian image of contemporary racism and mental institutions and an utopian eco-feminist future. Like much utopian SF, a good chunk of the novel is taken up not in traditional plot or character development but in an extrapolation of the setting, detailing the everyday and the specific in the imagined space. This means that at times, maybe most of the time, the novel can feel insufferably didactic -- "psychiatry bad! nature good!". But there's also a kind of power and drama to it, and towards the end of the novel what we've previously assumed starts to come into question. Definitely an important book for those who want to look at new wave feminist SF or contemporary ideas of the utopia, but a bit exacerbating as a read in general.


Published in 1976, this book was remarkably prescient. The way that Piercy has structured her utopian community of the future is not too far off the direction that alternative communities have been moving since the '60s -- and which has only accelerated in recent years, with the greater focus on sustainability and alternate energy sources. She also does a nice job of contrasting the plausible future utopia with an equally plausible dystopia, in which everything is state-controlled, bio-engineered, and class divisions have flourished and multiplied. Both are presented as possible futures, and the main character is given to understand that she has influence on which future happens - by virtue of fighting or giving up. Whether or not the main character time travels or is merely mad becomes irrelevant.

Danika Dinsmore

I loved parts of this book and thought others dragged on too long. There was a lot of talking and exposition where I suddenly felt like I was stuck inside Piercy's "What I did on my Summer Vacation: Toured a Utopian Society." When I take a step back and think about WHEN this was written (early 70's), it's a bit mind-blowing, really. In addition, the creation of an entire way of speaking - all the future slang - is incredible. I'm sure many readers thought this annoying or clunky, but I admired her consistent use of it.At times it is heart-wrenching, because the "real" part of this story is sadly real. It's an incredible social commentary and an interesting look into the world of the "insane asylum" circa 1970, told from the perspective of an uneducated poor Hispanic woman who lands there unjustly. I like the ambiguity as to whether she is actually time traveling or truly "insane." I did have a bit of a problem in that all the men in Connie's current time are "evil" (except one gay kid in the hospital with her and Connie's 2 dead ex-husbands).I did not like the ending, which is probably how I ended up with 3 stars. I didn't mind her actions at the end, not that they are completely justifiable, but didn't like the strange "piece" of her file presented. I guess it's meant to indicate how she spends the rest of her years... (don't want to say more for fear of spoiling). I might have liked it better if it just simply didn't include that are we were left to wonder.I'd recommend this book for anyone interested in soft-sci fi / feminist / dystopian-utopian literature.


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.

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!

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:


This book took me back to my early 20's when I first read it. I didn't realize it then, but it is a really great period piece. The future embodies all the feminist, socialist ideals of the 60's and 70's. I still love this book because the protagonist, Connie Ramos, is raw and her life is so rough around the edges. Too often, authors produce sanitized characters (but I think their readers want this). But Marge Piercy really makes you feel how difficult every day life is for Connie - even the smallest thing, like having clean clothes or finding matches. And you understand why she is so profoundly tired, as her life is piled up with both small and large injustices.I wavered between giving this book a 4 or a 5. I wish there was a 4.5 category. There were a few things I would change - maybe the future wouldn't have to be so idealistic. I appreciated that she built some flaws into the system - such as jealously. But I have my doubts that the system would be so ideal.


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?

Max Gordon

It’s interesting how the lens of three decades of life experience can sharpen the focus of certain stories—and even parts of stories. When I first read Woman on the Edge of Time not long after it was published (1976), I was barely into my 20s and already a reliable cog in the corporate machine. At that time, I enjoyed Marge Piercy’s story of a 37-year-old Chicana woman in New York whose already-complicated life takes a twist for the bizarre when she begins to communicate with an ambassador from the year 2137, but I found little to identify with personally beyond the yearning for a more egalitarian, utopian world. I read the book again when I was around the age of the main character, Consuela Ramos, and found considerably more to love—and ponder. I had naively thought when I first read the book in the late 70s that sexism, racism, and ethnocentrism were on the wane—outmoded concepts that were slowly but undeniably going the way of other counterproductive human behaviors like burning witches at the stake or equating nonconformity with insanity. Silly me. The 80s and 90s taught me otherwise, so that by the time I dipped into Woman in the late 90s, I realized how prescient some of Piercy’s observations were. And when I reread the book yet again recently, I finally found the story far richer and more nuanced than in any of my earlier readings.I am a gay single mother in my 50s who, after a severe depressive episode, has seen the inside of a mental institution. The short-term unit at McLean is a country club for harmless sadsacks compared with the more Cuckoo’s Nest setting Connie finds herself in, to be sure, but it’s a nuthouse all the same. So during this reading I found myself especially attuned to Connie’s treatment by “the system”—the way her story of the actions that led to her second commitment are ignored and read as denial and evidence of illness; the emphasis on orderly obeisance and lecturing over individual therapy and understanding; the easy assumption that “noncompliance” is dangerous and must be crushed. To be fair, I did not encounter frightened, uncaring staff during my brief stay, but it is still true that patients rarely if ever see actual doctors. At best they see counselors in group settings, but most interactions are with nurses, technicians, and pharmacists—just as they were in Piercy’s 1976 hospital. Those insights were critical in this recent reading of the book. The first time I read the book (I was a kid, remember!), I tended to believe that Ramos was indeed schizophrenic, and that she had created a very inventive but allegorically instructional alternative world to hide out in to escape the roughness of the real world. After the second reading I had no doubt that she had in fact been communicating with and visiting the world in 2137, and that her brave actions at the end of the book played a critical role in averting a disastrous future. But after this latest most recent reading, I have a different conclusion: it doesn’t matter. The book works either way, because it is above all character study, a deeply introspective look at community, evolution, survival, identity, and connectedness. Past reviewers have called the future world a “feminist utopia,” but this is hardly accurate. What they seem to be responding to is the idea that this future shows a world in which capitalism is not the driving force. It’s true: men are not in charge. But neither are women. Everyone is on charge, in turn. It’s not even socialism but communal living taken to a grand scale and extreme. It’s a world where everyone matters and is listened to, which is why it is important that Connie is not just some average housewife or middle management executive or a neurosurgeon: Connie is the epitome of the voiceless, ignored part of society—the people we brush off as “nuts” and consider less worthy of our full attention. This is not to say that Piercy is suggesting that everyone wearing a foil hat is tuned into reality and we are all fools for thinking them crazy; rather, she is contrasting what can happen when one set of people assumes graceless power over another and refuses to listen, to allow them to contribute or make their own sometimes-bad choices. It’s about what could happen if we accept totalitarianism.As an aside, I was amused to see that several reviewers considered the book dated—not the “present” period, mind you, which they accepted as a quaint period piece, but the imagined future of 2137. What we all forget too easily is that in the time since this book was written we have been barraged by a high-tech cinematic view of the future that almost invariably depicts our fate as increasingly electronic, automated, and conformist. Woman was written after the original-Star Trek series but predates the movies, the spin-off, and flashy movies like the Star Wars, Alien, and Terminator franchises. And the book helped spawn a generation of the alternative cyberpunk view of the broken, dystopian future that gave us Bladerunner and Mad Max. But realistically, none of us knows what the world will be like 125 years from now. Would we have imagined in 1887 that we could cruise down a highway at 80 mph talking to loved ones around the world through an earpiece? That our conversations at busy intersections and streets would be monitored and captured on camera without our knowledge? That pilotless drones would crisscross vast territories collecting data and firing weapons aimed by people on different continents? To think that we have any more insight into what will still be “normal” in 2137 is hubris.


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...


Something about this story really touched me. Even though it's styled as Sci-Fi it's more of a fantasy that makes an statement on modern day society, politics and environmentalism. The part that really got me was when the person from the future was saddened by all the people trapped in their cars, commuting to work all alone. I also appreciated the future ideas of transportation, war and child raising. The ideas presented throughout were eye opening and really made me question our “modern” way of living.

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


I feel harsh giving this book only two stars, but since my reaction was "it was okay," two stars is accurate in the GoodReads context. (Actually, my true reaction was "it was fucking depressing," though after closing the book and reflecting, there's of course a more nuanced reaction to be had.)An anarchist reading group whose meetings I've been attending held a discussion of this book, which is why I picked it up in the first place. One member said that Piercy's vision of a non-hierarchical society matched his ideal society in a lot of ways, and I would have to agree.Humanity is still human -- some conflicts are portrayed, for example -- but several issues were left unexplored, like the "criminal justice" system (if I remember correctly, Luciente et al explain that people are killed after they do something unforgivable a second time). Also, I'm not sure what I think about the way babies are born in 2137...And even in this world, there are rumblings of trouble on the horizon, with not just the ongoing war but also the philosophical split (related to genetics and human reproduction) between the Shapers and the Mixers.One of the more plausible elements of Mattapoisett's world was the change in pronouns ("person" and "per," rather than gendered terms). Language isn't constant in general, and given that "he/she," "s/he," and non-mainstream gender-neutral pronouns like "hir" and "ze" are replacing the generic "he," real life is (slowly) becoming less patriarchal, and our words are reflecting it.Piercy conveys the contemporary (well, late 1970s) societal surround of misogyny, racism, and classism quite literally by setting the novel mostly in a mental institution. Most of the supporting characters in the present day storyline are one-dimensional (for example, would no one at the Thanksgiving dinner with her family really have shown any sympathy for her?), and, like any utopia (or dystopia?), the plot is a vehicle for getting out Piercy's ideas of alternative societies in our potential future. The flip side to this artifice is that having a story to hang ideas on makes everything more memorable, especially if you're a reluctant reader of theory like I am.Another participant in my book discussion said that she thought Connie should have killed herself, too, at the end of the book, rather than passively waiting to be taken back to Rockover and punished for life. I would have to agree there. I also think her murderous action was justified, given her situation. As a "sacrifice" that would "save the future," as the cover copy on the 1983 Fawcett Crest edition puts it, poisoning a few of the professionals isn't quite up to the job. But as a battle, definitely.

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