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Book Title: Frau am Abgrund der Zeit|
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The author of the book: Marge Piercy
Edition: Argument Verlag
Date of issue: 1996
ISBN 13: 9783886199150
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 23.98 MB
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It’s interesting how the lens of three decades of life experience can sharpen the focus of certain stories—and even parts of stories. When I first read Woman on the Edge of Time not long after it was published (1976), I was barely into my 20s and already a reliable cog in the corporate machine. At that time, I enjoyed Marge Piercy’s story of a 37-year-old Chicana woman in New York whose already-complicated life takes a twist for the bizarre when she begins to communicate with an ambassador from the year 2137, but I found little to identify with personally beyond the yearning for a more egalitarian, utopian world. I read the book again when I was around the age of the main character, Consuela Ramos, and found considerably more to love—and ponder. I had naively thought when I first read the book in the late 70s that sexism, racism, and ethnocentrism were on the wane—outmoded concepts that were slowly but undeniably going the way of other counterproductive human behaviors like burning witches at the stake or equating nonconformity with insanity. Silly me. The 80s and 90s taught me otherwise, so that by the time I dipped into Woman in the late 90s, I realized how prescient some of Piercy’s observations were. And when I reread the book yet again recently, I finally found the story far richer and more nuanced than in any of my earlier readings.
I am a gay single mother in my 50s who, after a severe depressive episode, has seen the inside of a mental institution. The short-term unit at McLean is a country club for harmless sadsacks compared with the more Cuckoo’s Nest setting Connie finds herself in, to be sure, but it’s a nuthouse all the same. So during this reading I found myself especially attuned to Connie’s treatment by “the system”—the way her story of the actions that led to her second commitment are ignored and read as denial and evidence of illness; the emphasis on orderly obeisance and lecturing over individual therapy and understanding; the easy assumption that “noncompliance” is dangerous and must be crushed. To be fair, I did not encounter frightened, uncaring staff during my brief stay, but it is still true that patients rarely if ever see actual doctors. At best they see counselors in group settings, but most interactions are with nurses, technicians, and pharmacists—just as they were in Piercy’s 1976 hospital.
Those insights were critical in this recent reading of the book. The first time I read the book (I was a kid, remember!), I tended to believe that Ramos was indeed schizophrenic, and that she had created a very inventive but allegorically instructional alternative world to hide out in to escape the roughness of the real world. After the second reading I had no doubt that she had in fact been communicating with and visiting the world in 2137, and that her brave actions at the end of the book played a critical role in averting a disastrous future. But after this latest most recent reading, I have a different conclusion: it doesn’t matter. The book works either way, because it is above all character study, a deeply introspective look at community, evolution, survival, identity, and connectedness. Past reviewers have called the future world a “feminist utopia,” but this is hardly accurate. What they seem to be responding to is the idea that this future shows a world in which capitalism is not the driving force. It’s true: men are not in charge. But neither are women. Everyone is on charge, in turn. It’s not even socialism but communal living taken to a grand scale and extreme. It’s a world where everyone matters and is listened to, which is why it is important that Connie is not just some average housewife or middle management executive or a neurosurgeon: Connie is the epitome of the voiceless, ignored part of society—the people we brush off as “nuts” and consider less worthy of our full attention. This is not to say that Piercy is suggesting that everyone wearing a foil hat is tuned into reality and we are all fools for thinking them crazy; rather, she is contrasting what can happen when one set of people assumes graceless power over another and refuses to listen, to allow them to contribute or make their own sometimes-bad choices. It’s about what could happen if we accept totalitarianism.
As an aside, I was amused to see that several reviewers considered the book dated—not the “present” period, mind you, which they accepted as a quaint period piece, but the imagined future of 2137. What we all forget too easily is that in the time since this book was written we have been barraged by a high-tech cinematic view of the future that almost invariably depicts our fate as increasingly electronic, automated, and conformist. Woman was written after the original-Star Trek series but predates the movies, the spin-off, and flashy movies like the Star Wars, Alien, and Terminator franchises. And the book helped spawn a generation of the alternative cyberpunk view of the broken, dystopian future that gave us Bladerunner and Mad Max. But realistically, none of us knows what the world will be like 125 years from now. Would we have imagined in 1887 that we could cruise down a highway at 80 mph talking to loved ones around the world through an earpiece? That our conversations at busy intersections and streets would be monitored and captured on camera without our knowledge? That pilotless drones would crisscross vast territories collecting data and firing weapons aimed by people on different continents? To think that we have any more insight into what will still be “normal” in 2137 is hubris.
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Read information about the authorMarge Piercy (born March 31, 1936) is an American poet, novelist, and social activist. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller Gone to Soldiers, a sweeping historical novel set during World War II.
Piercy was born in Detroit, Michigan, to a family deeply affected by the Great Depression. She was the first in her family to attend college, studying at the University of Michigan. Winning a Hopwood Award for Poetry and Fiction (1957) enabled her to finish college and spend some time in France, and her formal schooling ended with an M.A. from Northwestern University. Her first book of poems, Breaking Camp, was published in 1968.
An indifferent student in her early years, Piercy developed a love of books when she came down with rheumatic fever in her mid-childhood and could do little but read. "It taught me that there's a different world there, that there were all these horizons that were quite different from what I could see," she said in a 1984 interview.
As of 2013, she is author of seventeen volumes of poems, among them The Moon is Always Female (1980, considered a feminist classic) and The Art of Blessing the Day (1999), as well as fifteen novels, one play (The Last White Class, co-authored with her third and current husband Ira Wood), one collection of essays (Parti-colored Blocks for a Quilt), one non-fiction book, and one memoir.
Her novels and poetry often focus on feminist or social concerns, although her settings vary. While Body of Glass (published in the US as He, She and It) is a science fiction novel that won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, City of Darkness, City of Light is set during the French Revolution. Other of her novels, such as Summer People and The Longings of Women are set during the modern day. All of her books share a focus on women's lives.
Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) mixes a time travel story with issues of social justice, feminism, and the treatment of the mentally ill. This novel is considered a classic of utopian "speculative" science fiction as well as a feminist classic. William Gibson has credited Woman on the Edge of Time as the birthplace of Cyberpunk. Piercy tells this in an introduction to Body of Glass. Body of Glass (He, She and It) (1991) postulates an environmentally ruined world dominated by sprawling mega-cities and a futuristic version of the Internet, through which Piercy weaves elements of Jewish mysticism and the legend of the Golem, although a key story element is the main character's attempts to regain custody of her young son.
Many of Piercy's novels tell their stories from the viewpoints of multiple characters, often including a first-person voice among numerous third-person narratives. Her World War II historical novel, Gone To Soldiers (1987) follows the lives of nine major characters in the United States, Europe and Asia. The first-person account in Gone To Soldiers is the diary of French teenager Jacqueline Levy-Monot, who is also followed in a third-person account after her capture by the Nazis.
Piercy's poetry tends to be highly personal free verse and often addresses the same concern with feminist and social issues. Her work shows commitment to the dream of social change (what she might call, in Judaic terms, tikkun olam, or the repair of the world), rooted in story, the wheel of the Jewish year, and a range of landscapes and settings.
She lives in Wellfleet on Cape Cod, Massachusetts with her husband, Ira Wood.
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