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A journey through resistance and revolution, Woman on the Edge of Time expresses the personal in the political by exploring the body as a site of resistance. Like many of Marge Piercy’s page‑turning works of fiction, her well-crafted narrative is led by affectionately observed and likeably flawed characters. Piercy gives space in her work to women’s experiences and relationships, often, as in this novel, to queer women and women of colour.
Woman on the Edge of Time depicts parallel stories: 1970s New York, where incidents will fate a potentially utopic or dystopic future, and the year 2137.
Piercy’s utopia elaborates on contemporary political and scientific experiments in horizontal living/organising and computer technology. No one bears children and male‑bodied people produce milk. Pronouns are non‑gendered and every child has three co-mothers until they turn 13 and pick their own name, off in the forest.
Everyone’s in functional polyamorous relationships. Each has a room of their own, creating a rhizomatic network of closely related individuals, with no nuclear or hierarchical relationships, intimate or familial. We meet a young teenager playing a harp to a room of sleeping babies. For the big party, everyone gets dressed up in fabulous Gaga-esque biodegradable outfits. Neighbouring communities consider their respective needs and debate until consensus on how to live with each other and the land. It’s delightfully politically idyllic.
Is this the utopia I would go for? Well, in many ways no. Utopic visions are only useful insofar as they shed critical light on the present and open imaginative space around alternative futures. They will always have limitations, and Piercy’s future utopia of Mattapoissett has its flaws.
The utopia is brought to us via the dreams and hallucinations of Consuelo Ramos, incarcerated in a New York hospital mental health ward. Connie is tough and hurting, imprisoned when she needs to be supported, abandoned to a place potentially more life-threatening than the one she inhabited before. Piercy does not create a utopic vision as a polemic, but as a counterpoint in constant dialogue with the experience of individuals marginalised in a capitalist society. She does not use this utopia to tantalise or drug the reader but rather as a tool to critique social crises of the present. Her science fiction delights in technological potential while also questioning medicine turned technically tyrannical.
Connie is a Hispanic woman, poor and sidelined. She retains a deep warmth and care for her unreliable niece, and nurtures the strength in the women around her on the psych ward. Here we meet resistance to oppression in their sheer resilience to physical violence. Connie and her ward-mates fight against the doctors’ abusive scientific experiments as the people of utopic Mattapoisett hold off the encroachment of the corporations’ attack at the frontiers of their enclosure.
Connie’s initial reaction to Piercy’s utopia as depicted in Mattapoisett lets loose the potential disgust in the reader for this seemingly new-age hippy commune, which in fact shows itself to be a highly organised, technologically developed community that Connie grows to trust, embrace and be nurtured by.
Connie’s passage to Mattapoisett is enabled by time travel sans fancy gadgets, on the arms of genderqueer Luciente, who wears trousers that re-size according to when the wearer gains or loses a few pounds. Where Luciente comes from, people are referred to as per and ze rather than her/him and s/he. Initially Connie reads Luciente as a gay man, and is shocked to find per to be what Connie would consider female-bodied. Piercy’s writing in 1979 might seem trite now after 30 years of trans-activism that has both evolved and disrupted understandings and expressions of gendered bodies, yet her writing is part of that journey.
In this future, racisms of the past (for 2137) are healed into a Benetton-esque blur of under-explored ethnic references. As far as I can see, racisms that oppress to this day stemming from colonialism and slavery will not disappear into casual celebration of cultural differences, but will require a continued critique and struggle against white supremacy, and I would have liked to see some depiction of this process. That the war with the corporations is being fought on the one hand, while white supremacy is somehow fully dismantled on the other, betrays a lack of analysis of the intersection of capitalism and racism.
Nonetheless, the journey with Connie and her ward‑mates empathetically shows the brilliant resilience of a group of women labelled ‘mad’ and facing persecution. Marge Piercy’s writing is to me like a long-awaited afternoon drinking tea with a close friend. Her characters, narratives and sensitive reflections on both intimate relationships and political organising engulf me in a sympathetic critical understanding. She is the most lent-out author on my shelf. With Piercy, do not expect a tidy neat denouement – life rarely offers an easily resolved ending, and neither does she.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
How can the heavily-armed Israeli state claim to be victimised by one teenage activist? By Richard Seymour.
Governments are manufacturing a new 'enemy within', write Yasser Louati and Malia Bouattia
The online currency started as an alternative to the failed financial system – but as a huge bubble inflates and bankers board the bandwagon, Tom Walker argues bitcoin has drowned in greed
Oliver Lemon explores what a 'robot tax' could look like, and whether it's an idea whose time has come.
Nic Beuret, Anja Kanngieser, and Leon Sealey-Huggins explore the effects of the COP23 negotiations on the global south.
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism