Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy — 6 years ago
As she slumped against the wall of the bleak seclusion cell, tears ran into her lap, soaking the yellow dress, faded from repeated laundering. Tears for Claud dead, for Angelina adopted into a suburban white family whose beautiful exotic daughter she would grow into. Remembering what?
Why had Dolly betrayed her? Well, why had she betrayed her own daughter? She had thrown Angelina away from the pain of losing Claud. She should have loved her better; but to love, you must love yourself, and she knew that now, especially to love a daughter you see as yourself reborn"(Page 62)
This wonderful book has many different layers of meaning, almost as if there were several books within the book. The basic plot is interesting and well-formed: Connie, a Chicana woman, is poor and struggling to survive in New York City. Wracked with grief over the death of her lover Claud, she abuses her young daughter and loses her to the system. Diagnosed with a mental illness, Connie is sent to an institution.
Before being institutionalized, Connie has an unusual visitor. Luciente is a woman from the future. Luciente continues to make contact and eventually, Connie finds herself visiting the future and she becomes familiar with the people of Mattapoisett, a small Massachusetts town in the year 2136.
Luciente’s world is vivid and wonderful and it creates a stark contrast with the gray, grinding, daily existence of the mental hospital. Far from being technologically advanced in the conventional sense, the people of the future are egalitarian, living in harmony with nature and one another. Technology is used to enhance their lives, rather than control it. Amongst Luciente and her ‘mems,’ Connie finds love and acceptance as she explores a new way of being.
I loved the depiction of the future in this book. The author’s description of Mattapoisett is richly detailed and absorbing (I wanted to live there!). It’s very easy to get caught up in this story, so easy that you forget that it might not be real. Connie’s ‘hallucination’ is so persuasive and beautiful that you want to believe.
Initially, I found Connie difficult to relate to. In fact, in the first few chapters, I didn’t like her very much. It was through Connie’s interactions with Luciente that I started to unravel the layers of Connie’s difficult life and found empathy for her. The book offers a sobering inside perspective on mental illness and the realities of life in mental institution.
This is where the layers come in, because you can interpret the book on many different levels: As a science fiction novel, it’s the story of a woman who travels into the future; as a psychological thriller, it’s the story of a mentally ill woman and her powerful hallucinations; as a feminist/societal dialogue, it’s the story of a woman fighting a hopelessly corrupt system.
It was a fascinating and absorbing book and it has given me food for thought.