Book Review: Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
Connie, a 30-something Chicana of the 1970s who has led a rough life, enjoys the time she spends in 2137 at Mattapoisett with Luciente. She believes she is a catcher and Luciente a receiver, which allows her to time travel in her mind. Luciente tells her there are two possible futures, and they need her and all the downtrodden to fight and not give up or the utopian future of Mattapoisett will be lost. Connie’s family and friends, however, believe she is schizophrenic and in need of their help. Who is right?
I almost gave up on this in the first chapter when we discover that Connie’s daughter has been taken away from her due to child abuse. Connie blames everything bad in her life on other people–the police, social workers, white people, her brother, etc… She takes no responsibility for anything. I was concerned that Connie’s opinions were the author’s opinions as well–blame society for everything and take no individual responsibility. I was wrong about that, though, and I am very glad I didn’t stop reading.
Marge Piercy’s writing is astounding. She sets up a complex social situation and leaves it open-ended for the reader to decide who is right, what the problems really are, who is to blame, how things can be fixed. Unlike most books regarding time travel or mental illness, it is not obvious that Connie is actually time traveling or that she is schizophrenic. This fact makes this a book that actually makes you think and ponder big questions.
The future world of Mattapoisett is of course the reason this book is considered a classic of feminist literature. In this society it has been decided that all of the bad dualities of have and have not originate from the original division of male and female, so they have done everything they can to make gender a moot point. The pronouns he and she are not used, replaced with “per,” which is short for “person.” Women no longer bear children, instead they are scientifically made in a “breeder,” and then assigned three people to mother it. These people can be men or women; they are all called mother. In the future of Mattapoisett, women are allowed to be strong; men to be gentle, and that is just the tip of the iceberg of the interesting, thought-provoking elements of Mattapoisett.
At first I was concerned that this book is anti-psychiatry, but really it is just pro-compassion. The reader is forced to observe the world from multiple atypical perspectives that force a questioning of world view. More importantly though it helps the reader to put herself into another person’s perspective, which is something that it is easy to forget to do. To me the key scene in the book (which doesn’t give away any spoilers) is when two people in Mattapoisett dislike each other and are not getting along. The township gets them together and holds a council attempting to help each person see the situation from the other’s perspective, as well as to see the good in the other person.
What I’ve said barely touches the surface of the wonderful elements of this book. I absolutely loved it, and it is a book I will keep and re-read multiple times. I highly recommend it to all.
5 out of 5 stars