***Woman on the Edge of Time Group Read--spoiler thread
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Connie could have had this done. She still would have been alienated, but wouldn't have felt invisible:
Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time has a future in which people live in small communities, work hard, love and/or have sex with whomever they choose, develop their talents, conserve the earth, study whatever interests them, govern communally, mother in groups of 3, no one bears children, they are grown with enhanced technology but any mother (male or female) can breastfeed, children are valued, diversity is cherished, food is good and locally grown, mind altering drugs are enjoyed at celebrations. These people are, of course, at war with those to whom technology, capitalism, and standardization are everything.
I guess a question is whether Connie hallucinates this utopia or whether she is really visited by Luciente from the future. Connie's life is so restricted, one can see how she would revel in such hallucinations, but does she have enough educational background to create them?
This was the best argument I came up with in favour of the visits being real rather than hallucinations. Also, her strong cynicism, even rejection, at least intially, of what she sees.
I appreciated that even though it is ostensibly a utopia, it is not perfect - people still experience jealousy and are not always 100% satisfied with the lifestyle they have chosen. I guess human nature will always come through even in a perfect society.
Something that struck me about Connie's reaction to the utopia was that even given her own and her family members' terrible experiences with medical care and hopsitals, she still seems to think that that is the best system for healthcare, rejecting what she sees in the future as primitive. She is incredulous when observing the rituals surrounding a person's death as they choose how to go, even when she has seen horrible things in her own time. That amazed me!
That does seem strange, but I see it. People who hate hospitals will still choose to have their baby in one thinking that's the safest way. Also, it could be a way of showing that she's not an unsophisticated dunce, which she is seen to be by everyone outside Lucient's world. A sophisticated woman embraces sophisticated medicine. That's another reason breastfeeding rates fell. Women wanted to do the modern thing, which they thought meant the thing best for their babies. Even those on the outside, lower social classes are effected by medical and corporate hype.
But the parts of the book that I reacted most strongly to were those in the "present"; it was impossible not to feel rage and frustration when reading of Connie's experiences with the authorities and the society within which she is a victim.
Re: Connie's child being taken away - Connie *had* pushed her around and broken the girl's wrist, and was frequently drunk or on drugs. But I agree that a white mother might have been given a second chance and not lost her daughter right away. (I do like how Piercy gave Connie so many different sides, that there was ambiguity in her rather than her being a complete angel.)
Even in Luciente's world, with what we in this world would think of as extreme intolerance to violence, she would have been given a second chance. Of course, in that world with its abundance of social support she never would have got to that state in the first place.
Anyway, I am enjoying this novel, if 'enjoy' is the right word to use. The long-suffering loneliness sections are sometimes a bit difficult to read because they are truthful!
Somebody mentioned that the scenes from the 'real' world were more compelling than the scenes from the future. So far (at almost 3/4 of the way through), I am getting the same feeling.
Speaking of bridging the fact/fiction boundary, the scenes with Alice hooked up to the radio/electrodes in her head reminded me of the work of Austrailian performance artist Stelarc, who has been experimenting with the obsolescence of the body and cyborg technology in his performance for a long time.
I also enjoy the attempts at gender neutral language (a la Kate Bornstein, a transgendered performance artist). And I appreciate the author's demonstration of what things (such as the brooder) are potentially horrifying about this image of the future to a person from our time. And I am fascinated by the issue she presents about redefining motherhood. Interesting!
I think the book raises a lot of interesting questions about technology, freedom, and gender. I'm looking forward to finishing it!
If anyone is still out there who wants to discuss this book, please keep chiming in!
Otherwise, I'll be looking for The Female Man thread soon!
I too liked Piercy's reimagined family structure, and Connie's reactions to it. Maybe if she had had "co-parents" to provide support, she would have been able to mother her own child the way she wished.
My edition had a couple of typos early on; it took me a while to realise that the gender neutral pronouns were deliberate and not mistakes!
But, yes! I love it when authors experiment with language as a way of demonstrating the invisible power structure embedded in our very speech patterns.
Kate Bornstein uses 'ze' for he or she, as well as 'hir' for her or him. It takes a little getting used to, but it makes sense. 'Per' and 'person' also are logical substitutions.
OK. Back to writing, and then more reading.
The Gildina character, from the other future that Connie stumbles into, reminds me of the French performance artist Orlan, who is fascinated by iconic images of beauty. Originally she did self portraits, but in the 90's (I think) started using her own body as a template. She has had herself surgically altered to represent different images of beauty. When you take isolated 'beautiful' details of many different faces and put it into one, the result is quite horrifying.
So, Gildina, 're-opped' to have conical breasts, tan skin, tiny feet, etc... reminded me Orlan. I think she has a website, too.
My 2 cents for the day. I'm almost finished!
I like your analysis of the Dolly-Gildina duo, Sakerfalcon. You're so right. Dolly would absolutely Gildinasize herself if she had the opportunity and then willingly be kept in a room with just TV and drugs while waiting to be used by her current owner. That was a very deft creation of Piercy's, don't you think?
The ending is interesting! After presenting us with this oppressed woman who we come to sympathize with, in spite of her history of having abused her child, the book ends with a clinical psychiatric analysis. The term 'paranoid schozophrenic' doesn't appear until the very end, which I think is clever on Piercy's part. Although I suppose that if I knew more about medicine, that maybe would have been apparent through the many medicines named throughout the book.
Piercy gets us to root for a child abuser and murderer. She, was, however, at war, wasn't she? So are abominable acts excusable under the rules of war?
It makes me think of Medea. Is the murder of her children and her husband's fiancee her only option? Is Connie's choice to murder the doctors her only option? Connie is a lot like the character of Medea. Medea is an outsider, an immigrant, like Connie. Jason enlisted her help in killing members of her own family for his quest. Then he dumps her for a younger bride after they're back in Greece and Medea is recast, not as a queen, but as a 'dangerous' barbarian foreigner. At a first glance, it is hard not to see Medea as crazy - she starts off angry at the beginning of the play and escalates quickly. I think that Piercy does a good job at demonstrating how our society can push people who are not in power for numerous reasons to do 'crazy' things. (Euripides does, too)
Medea also comes from a family of witches, a theme that is certainly developed in Woman on the Edge of Time through her friendship with Sybil (another ancient Greek reference there), her ability to time travel, and her choice of poison as murder weapon.
I could go on! There are a lot of great ideas presented in this book in the form as well as in the content. I just wish I could give Connie a couple of dragons to ride away on.
Or, is Piercy really saying it was all a hallucination by choosing to end with the analysis and diagnosis?
I do like when books don't wrap up neatly and leave you wondering, but this is maybe a bit too messy, given the depth of the issues raised. And I too hoped that somehow Connie would find freedom. But as a permanent life with Luciente et al had been ruled out early on, I couldn't see any way to end it happily and stay true to the original tone of the novel.
I would be hesitant to describe Connie as a child abuser on the basis of what we are told of her in the novel. It would be like calling someone a drug addict because they tried it once or twice, perhaps. But of course, society does just that. There's a whole other discussion about child welfare and parental rights ... There are so many issues in this book - I noticed one LT reviewer felt that it tried to do too much and thus didn't do any one thing well. I can see why per (!) thought that, but disagree about not doing it well.
I wonder if she actually killed the doctors in the hospital or not. Towards the end of the book, the inner logic of Connie's hallucinations was starting to unravel, expressed by Luciente's not remembering Connie joining them at the war front. But perhaps Connie jumped further into the future? Or is that an indicator that the reader should doubt all of Connie's experiences? Is the trip to her brother's house and the murder of 4 people another hallucination? Was she ever released the first time around?
That said, I do think that Connie was fighting a war. No matter what her actions in the past, she was unjustly committed to the psychiatric ward and struggles to regain what little power she had in the first place throughout the book, by any means possible. Her body had already been violated by an unnecessary hysterectomy. But in the end, it wasn't only her body that she was fighting for, it was her sense of self.
The issue of our society's reliance on technology is fascinating, especially since the book was written in 1976 (not the 80's, I don't know why I thought that in an earlier post). And that even in the utopic future in which people are fighting machines, there is still a heavy use of technology in what appear to be iphones.
I'll be interested to read more of Piercy's books, to see where she has gone with her own understanding of American culture through the literature that she has created.
Very well said, vapplerlee. I always love a book by an author who can see the tangled connections and unravel them enough to let the reader see too.
I've read several other things by Marge Piercy, the first was another more clearly science fiction He, She, It about society and humanity. I also have Three Women and Braided Lives and recently bought Gone to Soldiers, Summer People, Sex Wars, and a play she wrote with her husband Ira Wood The Last White Class. Once I got started looking I couldn't stop. She also a poet, as if social commentary in prose isn't enough.
I'm now back to my library, so I can at least try to jump in on another group read. I really enjoyed this one!
See you soon,
End of Days
by Marge Piercy
Almost always with cats, the end
comes creeping over the two of you—
she stops eating, his back legs
no longer support him, she leans
to your hand and purrs but cannot
rise—sometimes a whimper of pain
although they are stoic. They see
death clearly though hooded eyes.
Then there is the long weepy
trip to the vet, the carrier no
longer necessary, the last time
in your lap. The injection is quick.
Simply they stop breathing
in your arms. You bring them
home to bury in the flower garden,
planting a bush over a deep grave.
That is how I would like to cease,
held in a lover's arms and quickly
fading to black like an old-fashioned
movie embrace. I hate the white
silent scream of hospitals, the whine
of pain like air-conditioning's hum.
I want to click the off switch.
And if I can no longer choose
I want someone who loves me
there, not a doctor with forty patients
and his morality to keep me sort
of, kind of alive or sort of undead.
Why are we more rational and kinder
to our pets than to ourselves or our
parents? Death is not the worst
thing; denying it can be.
"End of Days" by Marge Piercy, from The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems, 1980 - 2010. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
And now I want to snuggle my kitties, despite the muggy east coastishness of the evening.