The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The novel is polyphonically composed, using six alternating female narrators (a group called the four J’s, a teenager, and the author). Each brings her own perspective, shaped in some cases by life in an alternate reality.

The first of the J’s, so named because their names begin with that letter, is Janet Evanson. She is an inhabitant of Whileaway, a possible future Earth whose entire population is women. She has been sent back to a possible present to study mores in a land where men still exist.

Janet finds two women whom she wants to take back to her time: Joanna, her tour guide, and Jeannine Dadier, a librarian. A large part of the book describes the relatively uneventful daily lives of these two women.

Jeannine has a noncommittal sexual relationship with the unambitious Cal. He is a male chauvinist who matter-of-factly expects Jeannine to do his laundry and prepare his meals, even though both work and he contributes nothing to her support or nurture. Jeannine’s passive behavior is contrasted sharply to Janet’s no-holds-barred actions. Taken to a party by Joanna, Janet evades the attentions of the drunken host by punching him in the nose and breaking his arm.

Yet another unfulfilled character is introduced when Janet Evanson moves in with a suburban family. The family’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Laura Rose Wilding, is a budding writer who has been frustrated by others, who label her aspirations unfeminine. The girl initiates a love affair with Janet, who is the first person she has met who respects her intellect and dreams.

The plot takes yet another unexpected turn when Alice-Jael Reasoner, called Jael, arrives to transport the women to another future. Jael lives on an Earth where women and men live in opposed, armed camps. Her nation has wanted to contact Whileaway but has been unable to because of peculiarities of the time-space continuum. Now that Whileaway can be approached by way of Jeannine and Joanna’s world, Jael asks if the female planet can be used as a training camp and if Earth can serve as a transfer point.

The book ends with the answers to these questions. Janet, not particularly impressed with Jael’s world, says no. Jeannine, sick of her planet’s patriarchal arrangements, agrees to assist in a war to exterminate men.