Marge Piercy creates a detailed portrait of a poor minority female who is constantly trying and hoping for a better life that never comes. For most of her life, Connie has been oppressed in every way imaginable. She has suffered at the hands of male and government institutions. She has never known real power, not even over her own body.
During her second incarceration in a mental institution, visits from a time traveler become more insistent. At first, Connie is convinced the traveler is in her imagination, but as the visits transport her to an androgynous utopia in the future, the legitimacy of the traveler is indisputable, and it is the present which seems more like a surreal nightmare.
Luciente is the traveler that shows Connie another world, a better world. Luciente is described as a male, at least in Connie’s eyes. From Luciente’s movements, confidence, and attitude, Connie is sure she is dealing with a man. She even forms the beginnings of romantic feelings for Luciente, but they fade after she discovers Luciente is actually a woman.
While visiting the future with her time-traveling friend, Connie is confronted with other non-traditional forms of society. For example, men can petition to be mothers. Children in the future are no longer born, they are grown. As such, babies are assigned to those that request them, and men commonly request to be mothers alongside women. Each child has three mothers (male or female), and is separated from their mothers at age twelve to foster independence.
Towns are kept small, so as to remain self-sustainable. A town models itself after past cultures of a certain time. The town Luciente is a part of follows the traditions of the Wampanoag Native Americans, and different races are purposefully bred, with racism having been bred out of human beings.
Sexually, Luciente and her friends are quite liberal. Homosexual relationships are normal, as are polyamorous or monogamous relationships. When Luciente is recalling her most passionate relationship, she tells Connie it was with a woman, a concept Connie cannot grasp.
The separation of gender, especially through the eyes of the lead female character Connie, are analyzed throughout the novel. The validity of power structures in society (like police, social workers, and doctors) are also questioned, as all the structures Connie encounters only take advantage of her position in society as a female, low-income, minority citizen.
The capitalist life style Connie is on the fringes of seems barbaric in comparison with the rich and happy life Luciente exposes her to. Piercy brings a disconnect to the modern world, and certainly evokes Suvin’s infamous theory of “cognitive estrangement” in science fiction writing with Woman on the Edge of Time.