Woman on the Edge of Time

by Marge Piercy

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Consuelo, or Connie, Ramos is the protagonist of Marge Piercy’s novel. A Mexican American woman in her mid-thirties, she has fled an abusive relationship and moved to another city. While trying to rebuild her life, she learns that her niece, Dolly, a beautiful woman in her twenties, is making her living as a prostitute and using illegal drugs. The person responsible for keeping her in this life is her pimp, Geraldo, a violent man who uses physical force as a method of control. One day, after he has beaten the pregnant Dolly, she seeks refuge at Connie’s apartment. Geraldo quickly finds her there. When Geraldo—who is the baby’s father—threatens Dolly, Connie intervenes by smashing him in the face with a wine jug.

She hated Geraldo and it was right for her to hate him. Attacking him was different from turning her anger, her sorrow, her loss into . . . self-hatred, into speed and downers, into booze, into wine, into seeing herself in Angelina and abusing that self born again into the dirty world.

Geraldo takes legal action, which results in her being committed to a mental hospital. The focus there is not on recovery; in a fog from overmedication, she feels imprisoned and warehoused. Visits she had received from a person who lives in the future become more frequent while she is locked away. She reconnects with a young man from her visions, Luciente, who has told her that he is a “sender” of messages, while she is a highly receptive “catcher.”

The reader gradually learns that Connie had problems earlier which led to her being enmeshed in the social welfare system, including having her own daughter, Angelina, removed from her care. Her attention to Dolly stems in part from her guilt over considering herself an inadequate mother. As her sessions with Luciente grow stronger, she finds herself in a future time, the year 2137, and in a different community in Massachusetts. As she gets to know Mattapoiset, Connie learns that babies do not grow up in nuclear families but that all children are reared by three co-parents or “brooders.” Luciente tries to help her understand that an attachment to the idea of mother had held women back and that it no longer applies in Mattapoiset society. He explains:

It was part of women's long revolution. When we were breaking up all the old hierarchies. Finally there was that one thing we had to give up too, the only power we ever had, in return for no more power for anyone. The original production: the power to give birth. Cause as long as we were biologically enchained, we'd never be equal. And males never would be humanized to be loving and tender. So we all became mothers.

The two stories of Connie’s involved with the utopian world and her increasingly harsh treatments in the hospital advance together. In the dream-world or future world, she finds happiness, comfort, female friendship, and sexual fulfillment. But as shock therapy alters her brain, she grows distant from her “catcher” abilities.

She thought of Luciente, but she could no longer reach over. She could no longer catch. She had annealed her mind and she was not a receptive woman.

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