04 December 2012

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

I owe my discovery of Marge Piercy to a blogsite called Poetic Medicine, where I saw "What's That Smell in the Kitchen?" and became curious about what else Ms. Piercy had written. There is quite a bit. I borrowed this book, a novel, and one of her poetry collections, "Available Light," from the library.

This is the story of a woman named Consuela, a Chicana living in New York City who has run seriously afoul of the court and mental health systems. Consuela has been committed and confined in the past, and it is not long into the book before she is, once again. This time she is to be subjected to a horrifying experimental procedure involving the implanting of electrodes in her skull which can be activated by remote control.

Piercy makes what could be a dismal indictment of the mental health system of the 70s (the book was published in 1976) and a (thoroughly justified) feminist rant against the repression of that time into a much more interesting story by the introduction of a character who turns out to be something of an illusion. Luciente is a woman from the future, 2137, who has learned to project herself into the past and communicate with Consuela, who is sensitive to Luciente's mind-touching. Consuela is able to visit Luciente's world, although only as a sort of illusion as well. The futuristic world provides a contrast to the time in which Consuela lives, and provides her character with the strength to mount her own rebellion against the injustices in her life.

I enjoyed reading this book and look forward to reading more of Piercy's work. The mental health system, and the lot of the poor, non-White, and female may have improved a little bit since 1976, but only a little. Today Consuela would not be institutionalized, she would simply be homeless, and would have to take her chances on the street with the rest of society's castoffs.

I don't feel that Luciente would think we'd made much of an improvement.

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