How many times read: At least 10.
What I love best about Marge Piercy’s imagined future: Too many things, but here are a few favorites: Everyone has her or his own cottage to live, create and work in. No more dysfunctional urban centers but instead villages rich with art, sustainable farming, and working government. Explanation: “We abolished cities. They didn’t work.” Universities have been replaced by mentoring. Students approach and request the artist, scholar, leader they wanted to apprentice with. Babies have three “mothers”—men or women—who share in their care. Rationale? Children belong to a community, and the more parents a child has the greater the range of guidance and support. Favorite touch: Factory made dresses for parties have been replaced by “flimsies” or elaborate paper dresses made by an artist in the community. They are good for one or two parties then recycled. I want a flimsy. I want to make flimsies.
The hard part: Connie, the central character, is trapped in a mental hospital in the present time. She can only visit the future in her mind. She’s one of the invisible underclass and dismissed as a negligible Mexican-American. She’s a problem for society, a poor mother, a weight on the state. In her entrapment, Connie’s mind opens to the possible future. The picture she creates is so vivid I want her to slip the bars of injustice and into the space she imagines. We are Connie, and our determination to keep envisioning, to keep writing, to keep hoping is the only way.
When published: 1976. Almost 40 years ago. I’m grateful this was out there while I was growing up and waiting for me to find it. A graduate student friend, Dana Beckelman, told me to Read this book!. She was tall, beautiful and so brilliant that I went out, bought a used copy and read it that night. Worst moment: When I closed the book just before dawn and there was no one in the room to talk to about how my mind had been blown.
When I met the author: Dana was with me. In her famous Texas drawl, Dana said: “Ms. Piercy, do you still espouse the views you put in that novel.” Piercy had a tangled halo of ebony hair and glaring eyes. She looked Dana up and down and said in disgust, “I wrote it, didn’t I?” She scared me, but in good way. I saw the books we write should be like life and death to us or why bother writing them. Even now when I doubt something I’m working on, I will say with a deep snarl: “I wrote it, didn’t I?”
Why I ask my students to read this novel, year after year: Some books you want to leave them with like a mark or talisman. Novels are acts of power when fully inhabited by a good writer, one with heart and a good dose of rage. They are prescient. This story makes my heart hurt with longing: I want this future where women and men live as if our time on earth is a shared process. A true collaboration is risky and beautiful. Fear should be something we share and confront together rather than force on each other. Our greatest obligation is to work toward a day when the ongoing violence enacted in the world we live in is no longer accepted.
A favorite passage:
She imagined herself taking a walk at night under the stars. She imagined herself ambling down a country road and feeling only mild curiosity when she saw three men coming toward her. She imagined hitching a ride with anyone willing to give her a ride. She imagined answering the door without fear, to see if anyone needed help.
From: Woman on the Edge of Time, by Marge Piercy