Study Guide

Woman on the Edge of Time

Woman on the Edge of Time Summary

Parts of Woman on the Edge of Time are all about realistic, mundane things like people being petty and families bickering over Thanksgiving turkey. And then other parts are all about fantastical, bizarre things like people being born out of tubes, talking to cats, and dodging cyborg assassins.

Are you supposed to believe in the turkey and the cyborgs? The pettiness and the talking cats? Or only turkey and no cyborgs? (Surely not only cyborgs and no turkey?) The book never lets you know for sure, because it's a jerk like that.

But it's an awesome jerk.

So what happens for certain? Consuela Ramos (Connie) gets in a fight with her niece Dolly's pimp, Geraldo, when Geraldo tries to convince Dolly to have an illegal abortion. Connie busts Geraldo's nose; Geraldo knocks her out. Then he has her committed as insane. Connie's been committed before, so the hospital believes Geraldo (and Dolly who backs him up because Dolly is kind of an awful mess). Connie is shipped off to the asylum.

In the asylum, Connie is selected for a fancy experiment; the nefarious Dr. Redding wants to put an implant in her brain that is supposed to allow the doctors to turn off her violent impulses. Connie doesn't want nefarious doctors messing with her brain (who would?), especially when she sees what happens to other folks who are experimented on.

So she tries to escape. While she does get away for a couple of days, she's recaptured. They put the implant in her brain… but she keeps going unconscious and the doctors get freaked out, so they take the implant out. Maybe we'll just cut out part of her brain instead, the doctors say. Wouldn't that be awesome? (No, Connie thinks. It would not. I need all of my brain, kthanx.)

Connie's brother and Dolly's dad, Luis (who is the one keeping her in the asylum), lets her come home for Thanksgiving before her brain is cut up. She wants to escape, but she can't—so she does the next best thing and steals poison from Luis's greenhouse, where he's having her work because he's kind of awful. She decides not to poison Luis even though he's kind of awful; instead she goes back to the hospital and poisons the doctors by dumping the insecticide in their coffee. That stops them from operating on her brain.

Instead, they just ship her off to the asylum, presumably for life.

So, again, that's what we know for sure happens. We also get flashbacks to Connie's past throughout. She's from a poor Mexican-American family; through determination, she managed to get to college. She ended up sleeping with a guy and getting pregnant. She dropped out of college and got an abortion and met and married Martín Alvarez. They had a passionate love affair until he got killed in a knife fight. (You think that's bad? It only gets worse from here.)

Then she married Eddie Ramos, who beat her and drank and cheated and gave her a daughter, Angelina, before they split up. She then met Claud, a blind saxophonist and pickpocket, who loved her and cared for Angelina. But then Claud got arrested: while in jail they tested a hepatitis vaccine on him, which killed him. Connie became horribly depressed and ended up hitting her daughter. She was committed for insanity and her daughter was taken away from her and put in foster care. Eventually she got out, but without her daughter she was bitter and depressed, not to mention very, very poor.

Okay, those are all the things we know for sure—and they're all really depressing.

And here's what we're not sure about.

Connie has visions. Are these visions because she's insane? Or are they "real"? Either way, she's visited by a woman named Luciente, who says she comes from the future. She also takes Connie to the future with her.

The future is way better than the present. There is no inequality; no rich and poor, no discrimination based on gender or race. Luciente lives in the village of Mattapoisett; everything is recycled, babies are born out of tubes, and love is everywhere. Connie is scandalized by some things (she's not down with the babies born out of tubes), but other bits she likes. She has sex with Luciente's sweetie Bee, for example. They don't have much sexual jealousy in the future. Polyamory for all.

Not everything in the future is good, though. The last surviving members of the rich, powerful folks are still around, fighting to make the world sucky again, so sometimes the good guys have to go fight. This is where the evil cyborgs come in.

Luciente's other sweetie, Jackrabbit, is killed, which is very sad (and made us cry, not going to lie). The world in the future is also worried that something will go wrong in the past, and the good future will never happen. That's why Luciente goes back to talk to Connie… though it's not clear what they want Connie to do. They never tell her. Which seems like an oversight on their part.

Does Connie really see the future? Luciente and Connie don't travel back and forth in time physically; they're just astral projections, and nobody else can see Luciente—which seems a bit too cutesy to be real. But then, Luciente teaches Connie to feign unconsciousness, which allows her to make her escape attempt. And while she's escaped, Luciente helps her find plants to eat and water. Connie wouldn't have known how to do that herself.

At the end of the book, Connie loses the ability to contact Luciente. Is that because the future with Luciente has ceased to be? Is it because Connie has turned to despair and bitterness and violence and doesn't have it in her to imagine Luciente anymore? Is it because killing the doctors secured the happy future, and there's no need to time-travel anymore? The book doesn't say; it just ends.

What do you think? Turkeys or cyborgs? Cyborgs or turkeys? Or, maybe cyborg turkeys?

  • Chapter 1

    • Connie answers the door wondering if she actually saw Luciente, who is a time-traveler from the future you haven't met yet. You need to have read the rest of the book to know what she's talking about in this first line. Tricky, huh?
    • Connie's niece Dolly comes in all beaten up.
    • Dolly drops in a chair, which is warm, maybe because Luciente's been there (if Luciente isn't imaginary).
    • Dolly admits that her pimp and boyfriend, Geraldo, beat her.
    • Dolly heard Connie talking to Luciente, though Dolly still isn't sure Luciente is real.
    • Dolly's pregnant; she's worried that the beating will make her lose the baby.
    • Geraldo shows up banging at the door. Nothing good will come of this.
    • He's brought a "doctor," not to help Dolly out but to force her to get an abortion.
    • So Geraldo's clearly the bad guy, and if this were an action thriller, you'd spend the rest of the novel figuring out how to defeat him and rescue Dolly from his clutches. It's not that kind of book, though.
    • Dolly got pregnant because she hoped that Geraldo wouldn't want her to get him money through prostitution anymore if she had his kid. That turns out to be a miscalculation.
    • Connie tries to stop Geraldo and he hits her so hard she falls into the stove and burns herself.
    • Geraldo and the doctor move to operate on Dolly; Connie hits Geraldo with a bottle, breaking his nose. Yay! Heroic triumph!
    • Again, not that kind of book. Geraldo knocks her out.
    • She wakes up strapped to a bed and doped with something or other.
    • Geraldo beat her on the way there. Then he told the people at the hospital that she was crazy and had attacked them.
    • She'd been put in mental institutions before, so they believe him and not her. They won't even look at her busted ribs because they don't believe her when she says he hit her.
    • So, yes, the doctors suck. Basically in this book most people suck. A bit too realistic for comfort.
    • Oh, and Dolly told the hospital that Connie was crazy and had attacked them, too. So much for solidarity.
    • Lots of Connie lying there. She thinks about her former husband, Claude, and her daughter Angelina. More about them later.
    • More lying there.
    • And more. Tedious, isn't it? Imagine how Connie feels.
    • They leave her so long that she urinates on herself. Then the medical attendants come and sneer at her for having urinated on herself.
    • This book does not have a cheery view of the medical profession, in case you're wondering.
    • The attendants give her a shower, and then she's on the ward, still drugged.
    • Eventually, nothing happens.
    • Eventually, eventually, Dolly shows up.
    • Connie begs her to get her out. Dolly says nope.
    • Unfortunately for Connie, Dolly, whom she loves, is kind of an awful person.
    • Connie remembers that she almost drank herself to death when her husband Claude died, so she understands sticking by your man.
    • Now she's off to talk to a caseworker, Miss Ferguson, who reminds Connie about hitting her daughter, and suggests that this incident, hitting Geraldo, is more of the same. She also mentions Connie's husband, Claude.
    • Connie remembers that her husband, a blind saxophone player and pickpocket, had been killed in jail when he was injected with an experimental hepatitis vaccine.
    • Miss Ferguson keeps blathering on. Connie convinces her that her ribs are actually hurt.
    • So the nurses finally look at her and tape her ribs. Connie has some hope that maybe Dolly will get her out.
    • Not going to happen. Look at how much of the book is left. Lots more misery to go.
    • And sure enough, she finds out her brother Luis has signed her in for the duration; she gets transferred to an asylum.
    • She wonders if maybe she belongs in an asylum since she's been hallucinating visits from a strange man. That's foreshadowing, incidentally.
    • But now she's just in the asylum and is miserable. More misery to come, Shmoopers. That's the kind of story you've picked up.
  • Chapter 2

    • Connie wakes up remembering something… maybe the first time she had a visit from Luciente. It's not clear. Again, the book is sometimes sneaky like that.
    • She remembers other things; like that she used to be beautiful. Being in the insane asylum is bad for your skin, it turns out.
    • She remembers a visit from her caseworker, Mrs. Polcari, who was about her age, but looked younger, because being poor takes it out of you.
    • And now there's Luciente, appearing out of nowhere. Connie thinks of Luciente as a man at first, though eventually that switches around. People from the future are complicated.
    • Now we switch to a memory of Dolly coming over with her daughter Nita and telling Connie she's pregnant.
    • This chapter is drifts through various events. Sort of like time-traveling, but with bitter memories instead of zap-guns.
    • Anyway, Dolly says Geraldo wants her to get an abortion, and then she has to run off to keep an appointment with a john.
    • Connie smokes some pot. Then she goes out for a walk and sees a girl who reminds her of her daughter and starts to cry.
    • Her daughter got taken away from her because she hit her.
    • Now Luciente appears.
    • Luciente tells Connie she's receptive, and that's why Luciente keeps visiting her. Connie thinks Luciente wants to have sex with her. Luciente thinks that's funny.
    • Luciente uses lots of future words that haven't been invented yet, like "redding" (which means "learning," maybe) and "fasure" (which means "certainly" or "for sure").
    • Then Luciente disappears again in a cloud of smoke, except without the cloud of smoke, and Connie can still smell Luciente's chemical scent a little.
    • Connie realizes that she has often been able to figure out what people are thinking without them telling her.
    • She could tell when her husband Eddie had been sleeping with other women, or when he was going to hit her. Though knowing those things didn't really make her happier.
    • She remembers growing up and how her mother told her she'd have a life as a wife and mother and not much else, and to get used to it. (Not quite that harshly, but just about.)
    • She had wanted to escape her mother's fate, but had also wanted her mother to approve of her.
    • Connie gets a letter from her sister, Teresa, asking Connie to remember to send gifts on the children's birthdays, but Connie has no money, so that's not going to happen.
    • And now we're remembering Professor Everett Silvester, a teacher Connie had when she was at college. He slept with her, and she's still angry with him. Connie is good at anger.
    • She tries to figure out how she can help Dolly, and doesn't have any good ideas.
    • Then Luciente shows up again. Luciente tells her he's from the future. He lives in 2137, in the village of Mattapoisett (which is a real village in Massachusetts. Look it up.)
    • Connie is skeptical, as you'd expect.
    • Why didn't you go to the President? she asks Luciente. Luciente says he doesn't trust the Establishment. He's kind of a future hippie, basically.
    • Connie lights a cigarette, which really freaks Luciente out. In the utopian future they do not smoke.
    • Also they don't have all the chemicals in the atmosphere and food that we do, and they arrange it so that their waste and drinking water don't get mixed together.
    • Luciente thinks the present is disgusting and dirty. Connie is a bit offended.
    • Luciente talks about composting. See? Hippie from the future.
    • Even if he doesn't like her cigarettes, Luciente thinks Connie is important. He has trouble explaining why, though, because future language is different than past language. Inconvenient.
    • He also says he's not really in the past; he's just a mental projection or something like that.
    • And then Luciente vanishes as Dolly bangs on the door and rushes in, so we're back to the beginning of Chapter 1.
    • The first two chapters are a big time loop. You could just keep reading them in a circle forever, till you got dizzy and spun into the hippie future of happy compost.
    • Or you could go on to Chapter 3.
  • Chapter 3

    • Connie comes down off the drugs the institution gave her. She feels rotten.
    • She remembers feeling rotten while being in the asylum before.
    • Then she remembers feeling rotten after her husband Claude died, and how she hit Angelina for ruining her shoes, breaking her wrist.
    • Luciente pops up again to give her a break from feeling all the rottenness.
    • Luciente uses a wristwatch to ask questions. It's like Google, on a wrist (it looks futuristic back in 1976 because they didn't have Google then).
    • Connie and Luciente miscommunicate for a bit, and then Luciente says he's depressed by the insane asylum, because it is depressing.
    • He offers to take her back to the future with Michael J. Fox (we wish).
    • On the way to the future, Connie has to hold Luciente tight and realizes that he's not a he, but a woman. Luciente was so self-confident, Connie got confused.
    • They show up in the future, which is rural and without laser guns. Connie is a little disappointed.
    • Luciente talks about how they recycle everything and don't waste in the very conscientious future.
    • Luciente shows off her garden.
    • Luciente gives Connie clothes, which are better than what she was wearing in the asylum.
    • Brief encounter with a cute future cat. Fun fact: author Marge Piercy loves cats (she has like four).
    • Connie wants to know whether Luciente has kids, but the conversation gets garbled because in the future they have different family structures (men or women can be mothers, there are no fathers… and no birth, as you'll see.)
    • They eat, and Connie learns that names work differently (everyone has only one, but they change them when they feel like it).
    • Eventually Connie gets tired and ends up back in the asylum.
  • Chapter 4

    • Connie makes friends with a nurse, Ms. Fargo, who is about her age and is also Latina. She does little chores for Ms. Fargo and Ms. Fargo gives her cigarettes or other privileges.
    • The hospital has electroshock, which scares Connie, because getting zapped with an electric current by people who clearly don't care about you is pretty frightening.
    • An inmate named Sybil shows up; she and Connie met the last time Connie got incarcerated and became good friends.
    • Sybil's a witch; she puts hexes on people (though they don't seem to actually do much good, the hexes).
    • The two of them talk about sex a little; Sybil doesn't care about it.
    • Connie realizes she talks to people more in the asylum than outside—which is pretty depressing.
    • A doctor, Dr. Morgan, shows up and picks Connie to do something or other—what it is exactly they don't say. (That's not good medical care; imagine if a doctor pointed to you and said, "Hey, we're going to use you for a procedure!" but didn't tell you what the procedure was. This would not be conducive to calm.)
    • Connie looks in the mirror on the way over to the testing the next day and she looks awful.
    • At the waiting area for the test she meets a young man named Skip, they try to figure out what's going on.
    • Connie goes in for an interview; it's much like every other psychological interview she's had, though the doctors seem less involved and Dr. Redding keeps asking her about her brain.
    • In general, you don't want doctors asking about your brain.
    • The doctors seem to be happy to hear that her second husband Eddie beat her up. They select her for the program.
    • Connie gets moved to Ward G-2, where they give her pills rather than liquid, which means she can pretend to take them and not do so, which means her head will be clearer. She also gets a chance to go outside a little. So the change seems for the better, as these things go.
    • Not for long though.
  • Chapter 5

    • And back off to the future with Luciente again.
    • Luciente says that at one point in the 1990's people learned to control the weather and it turned out badly.
    • Obviously, we know now that that didn't happen. People in the 1990's were too busy on AOL Instant Messenger and listening to the Spice Girls to control the weather.
    • The cat shows up again, and Luciente explains that in the future they talk to cats.
    • Luciente explains they have sign language with cats. Admittedly, cats don't say much that is too complicated.
    • It turns out the future is at war; everybody takes turns being in the army, unless they don't want to.
    • Nobody is forced to do much in the future. That's why it's a utopia. (Though if you're unpleasant you may be asked to leave the village. And sometimes healers can heal you of being unpleasant.)
    • They go to the birthing place, where babies are born out of tubes.
    • They explain that the Wampanoag Indians are the source of their culture.
    • Connie meets Bee and has a bit of a crush on him; he reminds her of her husband Claud (who was also black).
    • Bee explains that race in the future doesn't make any difference, but they have different cultures because difference is strong (but difference isn't linked to skin color).
    • Connie is really upset by babies being born from tubes. Luciente tells her it's necessary for women to give up the power of birth in order to have equality for everyone. Connie seems unconvinced.
    • Connie remembers her own child, Angelina, who was taken away from her. She cries and ends up back in the asylum.
  • Chapter 6

    • Connie thinks the nurses treat them like they're in grade school.
    • She remembers grade school, and especially her brother Luis teaching them to use an English accent. He'd hit them if they got it wrong.
    • Then she bops over to remembering how she met her husband Claud in a bar when she was looking for Eddie to pay her child support.
    • Time drags… and more time drags.
    • Another inmate tells Connie that they've taken Sybil for electroshock.
    • Connie is angry so she gets out of line for lunch to sit on her couch and they throw her into seclusion. Because they are awful.
    • She remembers more times with Claud and Angie, and is thoroughly miserable.
    • Whoops; off to the future right here in the middle of the chapter.
    • In the future, Luciente takes Connie to see a child named Innocente get ready to take her own name.
    • They're going to drop her in the forest and she has to make her way back; then she takes a new name and doesn't talk to her mothers for three months.
    • Innocente is only about 11. Hmm. Dumping fifth graders into the woods for fun? That sounds horrible.
    • Connie and the future people chat. Connie tells them she hurt her child and feels fragmented and they say maybe Diana (Luciente's sweetie) could heal her.
    • Jackrabbit says he felt similarly fragmented when he was supposed to pick his own aim; he ended up in a madhouse where he got healed.
    • Future madhouses work better than past madhouses. Some sci-fi futures have faster than light travel; some have better-working asylums.
    • Jackrabbit flirts with White Oak, who's much older than him. Connie is a little scandalized. Jackrabbit flirts with everyone (that's part of why he's named Jackrabbit).
    • They decide to take Connie to the children's house, which she's really excited about.
  • Chapter 7

    • Jackrabbit tries to comfort Connie and gets an erection. He wants to sleep with everybody all the time. There is a certain amount of giggling.
    • More talk about the perfect society. All the talk about the perfect society can get a little dull (maybe that's why Piercy threw in the erection, to make sure you were paying attention).
    • Anyway, in the perfect society they make lots of things but nobody is in that much of a hurry, in part because they automate as much of it as they can.
    • Lots of discussion of how a future pillow factory works. If you ever wondered how pillow factories would work in the future, this is the place to go.
    • They get to the children's quarters. Connie wonders where the school is, but there is no school. The perfect future has no school. Nifty, huh?
    • Instead, kids learn from adults by doing.
    • They use science so men can breastfeed, too. Connie is jealous, and remembers breastfeeding her own child and is sad.
    • Whoops—they stumble on a couple of young kids having sex. They let the kids practice sex in the future so they know what's what by the time they grow up.
    • They don't think sex is bad unless it involves force or coercion.
    • Then Connie sees a kid who looks like Angelina, and she is so upset she bops back to the past.
    • Connie decides Angelina would be better off in the future, even with the child sex and the talking cats.
  • Chapter 8

    • Connie is taken off the ward for testing.
    • She meets Skip again and they chat; he tells her the testing won't hurt.
    • They also meet Alice Blue Bottom, who seems remarkably happy and confident considering she's in the depressing asylum.
    • Connie also sees Sybil again. Sybil is depressed; the electroshock damaged her memory. She's in the group to be tested too, now.
    • One inmate is struggling with the television, but Connie doesn't need to watch television because she's got the future in her brain.
    • In the future, Connie and Luciente bicycle around in the rain looking at gardens.
    • No, it's not a space bicycle. Not that kind of future.
    • They go to Cranberry, which is an Ashkenazi Jewish culture.
    • They attend a government council meeting. It's kind of boring. Meetings are boring even in utopia.
    • They explain that in fact the future has a lot of meetings, because no one tells anyone to do anything, so they all have to negotiate it.
    • Luciente drops a hint about how poor people staged a revolution and changed the world… but we don't follow up on it.
    • Instead, Sappho, who Connie met before briefly telling stories to kids, is dying.
    • Sappho is waiting to die until her child Bolivar (formerly named Swallow) can get there.
    • Connie remembers being in a hospital in her own time, and the way that doctors were cruel and made mistakes and didn't seem to care.
    • This book is not very fond of the medical profession as it is currently constituted. We've already mentioned this, right?
    • Bolivar finally gets there, and Sappho dies right off.
    • They're going to have a funeral but before they can, Connie is pulled back to the present by Nurse Wright slapping her. She's been out cold.
    • Soo… is Connie insane or isn't she? Is the future all in her head? Will we ever find out!? (Spoiler: no.)
  • Chapter 9

    • Connie is chatting with Skip, trying to figure out what they're all being tested and poked and prodded for.
    • Dr. Redding got his picture in Time. That actually sounds kind of ominous.
    • Skip says he had electrodes strapped to his penis before and they zapped him whenever he got aroused by pictures of men in an effort to cure him of homosexuality. He figures anything has to be better than that. Unfortunately…
    • Skip gives her money to call Dolly, who Connie hopes will get her out.
    • You have to get in line for the phone call… and ask the Nurse for permission. It's all humiliating and sordid and awful. The future is better.
    • Connie leaves a message on Dolly's machine; then she gets a letter from Dolly saying she'll come.
    • She waits around the night before Dolly is supposed to show up and is anxious and bored, so she calls for Luciente.
    • Luciente is partying and has been drinking and smoking marijuana. In the future, you're allowed to smoke weed.
    • Luciente is wearing a dress; they wear dresses ("flimsies") for special occasions.
    • She gives one to Connie, too; Connie worried it's too transparent. (In the future, you can smoke weed and be nude.)
    • We learn, by the way, that Innocente made it through her initiation and is now called Hawk.
    • Jackrabbit and Bolivar are performing together and kiss; Luciente feels jealous. Despite the marijuana and the nudity, people still get jealous in the future.
    • Luciente asks why it took people in Connie's day so long to revolt against injustice.
    • She also explains that this happy future (with the pot and the nudity and some jealousy) is only one possible future. Things could be worse (less pot, less nudity, more jealousy).
    • They see Luciente's child, Dawn, playing; she reminds Connie strongly of her own daughter Angelina.
    • They watch a video that Bolivar and Jackrabbit made. Then Connie asks to kiss Dawn, who lets her.
    • This is a big deal for Connie, who has lost her own daughter. Dawn mostly wants to pretend to be a squirrel though.
    • Connie remembers feeding her daughter Angie dog food, because they were too poor for anything else.
    • She starts to fade out but Luciente grabs her, and they go to the dance floor.
    • Luciente's old lover Diana appears and they go off, probably to do something futuristic and lurid.
    • Bee stays behind with Connie; they dance together, and then they go off to have sex too.
    • It makes Connie happy.
    • But then she wakes up back in the ward. And she waits all day for Dolly to come.
    • And she doesn't.
    • Happiness doesn't last long in this book.
  • Chapter 10

    • They take Connie to a different ward to prepare for the experiments.
    • They find Alice Blue Bottom in bed, with her head swathed in bandages.
    • Skip and Sybil tell them that the doctors stuck needles in Alice's brain.
    • The next day Connie's confined to bed, so she heads back over to the future again.
    • They all have breakfast in the future. Dawn is there.
    • They talk about the future project for contacting the past. Dawn says she wants to make everything come out well; the others say you can't make things come out right.
    • Connie tries to get them to tell her why they've contacted her.
    • They're cagey about it. Also, maybe, the author didn't have all the details worked out. These things happen.
    • Anyway, they say they may blink out if she screws up, but they won't tell her what she needs to do. That seems like a recipe for things not turning out so well, people.
    • The future doesn't listen though. Stupid future.
    • Anyway, future people explain there was a long war and revolution that made the future they're in, or if it didn't, then they're not. Got it?
    • They debate whether to give Connie more specific details, but then decide not to.
    • And we're bumped back to the present, where the doctors are clustered around Alice.
    • They start taking off her bandages.
    • Sybil tells Connie they've put electrodes in Alice's brain to control her.
    • They set up and start to take Alice's picture, but she's embarrassed because she's bald.
    • An administrator, Valente, figures out that Alice is embarrassed and suggests getting wigs.
    • The doctors decide to go ahead while Alice is upset, because they're horrible people.
    • They struggle with Alice and set up their equipment and then the doctor zaps her with the brain juice, and she gets calm.
    • Then the doctor zaps her again and she gets mad, then calm again (or not exactly calm—interested in sex. Which embarrasses the doctors a little.)
    • Connie is freaked out, as you might imagine; she doesn't want anyone putting electrodes in her brain and making her perform on command.
    • And then in the evening we go back to the future, where the community is trying to get Luciente and Bolivar to stop being jealous of each other.
    • It's called a worming; the point is to make sure everybody gets along.
    • This is a much different approach to attitude-adjustment; rather than sticking electrodes in somebody's head, they try to talk out the problem.
    • Connie says it seems like it's a waste to spend so much time on personal petty nonsense, but Parra says they think personal petty stuff can turn into a community-wide mess.
    • Yet more talk about how the future handles crime. Basically, if you do something violent you're supposed to confess and figure out how to atone. If you do it twice they execute you.
    • Connie finds out that Parra is from Mexico near where her family is from; they start chattering, then realize they're supposed to be doing the crit for Luciente and Bolivar.
    • Luciente criticizes Bolivar's art; Bolivar criticizes Luciente, but basically they're both jealous of Jackrabbit.
    • The group decides Luciente and Bolivar have to talk to each other.
    • Connie thinks the problem for Luciente may be that she dislikes Bolivar and Jackrabbit's relationship because both are men.
    • But in the future there is no homophobia, and Parra doesn't even really understand what Connie is talking about.
    • Connie remembers her first love, Martín, who died in a knife fight.
    • She hasn't been lucky in love.
    • She wishes she and Martin had lived in the future, where they both would have had respect and fulfillment.
    • And then bump, back to the present and the asylum, where respect is not on offer.
  • Chapter 11

    • Dr. Acker is trying to get Connie to sign the permission form for them to mess with her head.
    • He's already got permission from her brother Luis, but he seems to enjoy trying to convince her.
    • He says she'll get out if she signs the permission form.
    • She refuses.
    • On Sunday, Dolly finally comes. She is obviously drugged nearly out of her mind.
    • She gives Connie some money.
    • Connie begs Dolly to get her out, but Dolly says it's all up to Luis (her dad).
    • If your life depends on Dolly, you are in big, big trouble is the takeaway here.
    • Connie asks Sybil to help her get out, but Sybil is worn out by the electroshock. She agrees to help though.
    • Connie cries because her life sucks and everybody who can help her is a mess.
    • She tries reaching out to Luciente to see if maybe she can help.
    • Luciente and Jackrabbit are swimming naked in the future; Connie is embarrassed, which they think is funny.
    • Jackrabbit says he's going on military service.
    • Connie tells them her problems.
    • Luciente can't interfere in the past, but she offers advice.
    • She tells Connie she can teach her how to feign unconsciousness to fool the doctors.
    • So Connie bounces back and asks Sybil to stage a fight with her.
    • She spends as much time in the future as she can to try to learn to feign unconsciousness.
    • Schemes! Plots! It's almost like an action adventure story now!
    • Trust us, Shmoopers, that won't last long and we'll be back to sitting around in despair.
    • Connie learns about some of the political disputes in the future; some people want to do genetic tinkering as a matter of course; Luciente and others only want to interfere with genetics for birth defects and such.
    • Connie tries to learn to knock herself out; Dawn watches.
    • Even the scheming is pretty low-key, honestly.
    • Luciente says she and Bolivar are trying to like each other better, with mixed success.
    • Back to the present… and Sybil and Connie stage their fight.
    • Sybil hits Connie; Connie drops and uses her future superpowers to knock herself out.
    • Orderlies tranquilize Sybil (and Trina Ortiz, another inmate who joined in the fight). They wheel Connie down the elevator to the X-ray.
    • As soon as Connie is left alone for a minute, she gets up. (If she's crazy and isn't going to the future, how does she manage that? This is the moment when it most seems like Connie really has been traveling to the future and has future superpowers.)
    • She gets outside. She'd stowed some clothes in preparation, but the searchlights come on, and she just has to run.
    • She walks and runs and staggers along the side of the highway.
    • She finds a gas station with an open bathroom and tries to clean herself up a little.
    • More walking. More walking. She finds a clearing by a tree, and falls asleep.
  • Chapter 12

    • She wakes up, her feet hurt, and she's generally a mess.
    • As sci-fi journeys to exciting, distant places go, this one lacks space critters. Instead we've got highways and blisters.
    • She asks Luciente to come through and help her out.
    • Luciente is good at being woodsy, because they are woodsy in the future. So she helps Connie identify things she can eat.
    • And while we're chewing on chewable things, Connie remembers her past, and how she'd been proud of herself at community college.
    • She'd gotten lower grades because she didn't have a typewriter, so she got a boy in her classes, Chuck, to let her use his typewriter if she typed his paper.
    • He also got her pregnant, and then she dropped out and married Martín.
    • She'd been ashamed of herself and Martín made her feel like she was worth something.
    • She asks Luciente if Dawn can come with her to keep her company. She's worried that she'll be harmed, but Connie wheedles and Luciente gives in.
    • Dawn shows up and Luciente takes her to see the cars going by on the highway. Dawn pops back to the future.
    • Luciente finds Connie water and things to eat.
    • She also talks to Connie about money in the future, where everybody has enough and they only use credits for luxuries.
    • Luciente makes a poultice for Connie's blistered feet.
    • Connie half-dreams that she's in the future, watching a birth from the tubes. She thinks she sees Sojourner receiving as mother a baby named Selma.
    • She stops dreaming and starts walking.
    • She gets to a town and walks through a factory district. She remembers working herself and not being able to see her daughter because she was working so much. Welfare was even worse, and then she'd been arrested, and that was even worse than worse.
    • She's still a mess; but she has a little money from Dolly and she pays for breakfast.
    • She goes to the ticket counter where a guy is reading a dirty book. She gets a ticket for a 12:30 bus to New York, after which she figures she'll be safe.
    • But the guy with the dirty book turns her in, and the police take her and she ends up back in the hospital.
    • That's the end of the adventure. There's one more in the book; it ends even worse. (Don't say we didn't warn you.)
  • Chapter 13

    • Back in the ward, Connie's lost her chance to room with Sybil.
    • She's also signed the permission form. Skip gives her a hard time about it. Sheesh, Skip; she tried to escape. What do you want from her?
    • Connie is rooming with Tina Ortiz; Sybil's in the next room.
    • They're waiting to be operated on.
    • Sybil's got some of her energy back.
    • Skip's hair is cut and he's taken off to have his brain zapped.
    • Connie and Tina go visit Alice, who is a mess. Having wires put in your brain isn't good for you, it turns out.
    • Dr. Acker is pleased he got Connie to sign the form and so he's interested in her and trying to get her to agree that what's being done to her is for the best.
    • Connie talks to Luciente who is cheery and encourages her to try to escape again.
    • Connie tells Luciente she's being a jerk. Luciente is contrite. When you live in a utopian future, it's hard to resist being cheery, even when it's inappropriate.
    • The brain stuff doesn't work right on Skip; when the doctors try to make him aggressive to attack them, it makes him bash his head and try to hurt himself.
    • Connie hears the doctors hoping that the brain stuff can make Skip stop being homosexual (that would be a sideline for their main purpose, which is to stop him from being violent).
    • They take the electrodes out of Skip, but they operate on his brain. Connie tries to talk to him, and he seems out of it and bitter and screwed up.
    • And to the future we go, which has to be better than this.
    • Jackrabbit shows her some video art, which she likes.
    • Luciente and Jackrabbit chat a little about Jackrabbit going to defense, that is, war. Afterwards he'll be a mother.
    • Connie wonders why Jackrabbit has to do anything but make art since he's a great artist. They provide a moral lesson about how nobody should be exempt from important duties just because you make pretty pictures.
    • The novel is filled with moral lessons. In utopia, you will get a lot of moral lessons.
    • They talk a little about the war. It's the capitalist rich people against everybody else. The capitalist rich people have mostly been defeated, but they cling on up on the moon and other outposts. Capitalist rich people are hard to get rid of, even in the utopian future.
    • Jackrabbit flirts with Connie. She is embarrassed but then thinks it's funny.
    • Back in the present, Acker comes to Connie to get her to agree that having her brain fried is all for the best.
    • It's not enough to fry her brain; he has to get her to like it.
    • Skip is a bit more himself; he tells the doctors whatever they want to hear so he can get out.
    • They've broken something in him, but not everything.
    • What's he going to do when he gets out, though? Nothing good.
  • Chapter 14

    • Back to the future again; Jackrabbit's gone on defense.
    • Lots of chattering about this and that and the future. Connie says it's hard for her to see Luciente as a scientist because the scientists she knows experiment on people and are awful.
    • Her sister, Inez, went to get an abortion, but the doctor wanted to experiment on her, and lied to her about what he was doing, so Inez had the baby.
    • Luciente explains that in the future they use computers to test drugs. Also, sometimes people will volunteer.
    • Luciente explains that in the future everyone votes on the direction of scientific research.
    • She also says they decided not to prolong life because they can't overpopulate, and everyone wants a chance to have children.
    • Back to the past, where Connie lies in her bed and thinks about how ugly the world is.
    • Cheery, yes? But more fun is to come, as the doctors take Connie away to have her brain electroded and poked and messed with. Ick.
    • The doctors joke and talk about how stupid she is when she's on the table. Because they are awful.
    • Anyway, they finally finish with her, and she is sullen and withdrawn while she heals.
    • Skip is getting ready to go home. They're going to take the electrodes out of Alice and do something else to her brain. She's depressed now.
    • Skip finally gets to leave.
    • He says they burned something out in him.
    • And as soon as he's out, he kills himself by cutting his throat with an electric knife.
    • Sybil says she heard that Skip's dad was upset, as you'd think he would be.
    • Connie thinks that the doctors cured Skip of indecision; they fixed him so he could actually kill himself, rather than just attempting, as he had done before.
  • Chapter 15

    • Connie keeps trying to get in touch with Luciente, but she can't. So she tried and ended up in a different future.
    • She meets a woman who seems to have had extensive plastic surgery and is upset at Connie's sudden appearance.
    • The woman's name is Gildina; she threatens Connie with being arrested, or the future equivalent of being arrested, which would presumably be worse (this isn't a nice future).
    • Connie convinces Gildina she's from the past; Gildina is still confused.
    • Gildina is a bit like Dolly in the present.
    • Rich people seem to live forever (200 years) in this future; everybody else dies at 40 or so.
    • Poor people are treated even worse in this future than they are in Connie's present.
    • Gildina has lots of drugs—again, like Dolly.
    • Also she has super-immersive-future-television to distract herself.
    • The city (New York) is also so polluted that you apparently can't even see sunlight (they don't have windows).
    • There's no recycling either, and everybody eats processed yuck. It's like the anti-Mattapoisett, this place.
    • And suddenly a guard shows up. He's like Geraldo, but with super-pimp implants and cyborg evil.
    • He threatens Gildina, telling her she'll end up in the organ bank. He threatens Connie too, but she's not scared because she's actually in the past.
    • Multinational corporations rule the future, it looks like. Bummer.
    • The guard grabs her and she has some trouble disappearing, but finally she manages it…
    • And wakes up back in the hospital bed, which doesn't seem much better.
    • The drugs in her brain are supposed to keep her from getting angry, but since she's able to travel to the future they don't work so well.
    • Sybil and Tina were worried about her since she was out cold, but she winks at them.
    • So, maybe having future powers makes her immune to electrodes in the brain?
  • Chapter 16

    • Connie is depressed because she has electrodes in her head. Which seems like a pretty good reason to be depressed, really.
    • She is uncooperative and remote.
    • Dolly sometimes shows up. She's mostly useless, and miserable, though she doesn't admit she's miserable.
    • Connie wants Dolly to get her out of the asylum. She wants Dolly to take her daughter back and stop drugging herself. Dolly isn't going to do any of those things, though.
    • Some detail here on the doctors. Dr. Morgan is married and unfaithful; Dr. Redding has four kids; Dr. Argent is upper class; Dr. Redding wants to be invited to some party thing that Dr. Argent does.
    • So, pro-tip, Shmoopers—when an author gives you backstory on minor characters, it means the author has plans for those characters. If you're a minor character in a novel and you suddenly get a backstory, watch out.
    • Connie hears from Luciente all of a sudden. She manages to get to the future pretty soon afterwards, and learns that Jackrabbit has died in battle.
    • Luciente is very upset.
    • Jackrabbit's body has been brought back and the service begins.
    • Arthur, Jackrabbit's mother, speaks about how he loved Jackrabbit but always had tension with him.
    • Other folks share memories too, including Luciente.
    • Bolivar can't cry. Erzulia, who is a healer, dances, imitating Jackrabbit. Bolivar dances with her and remembers Jackrabbit and cries.
    • The service breaks up; they go to eat. Bolivar remembers traveling with Jackrabbit.
    • Those who want one take remembrances from Jackrabbit.
    • They learn that the council has decided to create an exact genetic duplicate of Jackrabbit, which is a great honor.
    • Connie then has to go back to the past, where she's been out for twelve hours, completely freaking out the doctors, and Sybil and Tina as well.
    • Connie feels she's won a victory, though, since she's gotten them to put off putting electrodes in Tina for the moment.
  • Chapter 17

    • Tina tries to escape in a laundry cart, but she's caught.
    • Connie is having trouble reaching the future. Finally she gets through and finds Luciente and friends fighting up at the front.
    • Luciente says it's been harder to make contact because of probability static… which is a fine, old-school, pseudo-science sci-fi explanation.
    • Presumably the idea is that the future is in weird flux for some reason. What reason?
    • Luciente and Bee fuss over her wig; Bee is very sad to hear she's had a brain implant.
    • They talk about how they hope that the war will end and all will be well.
    • Then there's an attack and they scatter and Connie bumps back to the past.
    • Where the doctors gather around and worry that she's hallucinating.
    • Then Connie bounces back to the future.
    • Back at the front, and cyborg/robot things are attacking.
    • Connie remembers when Martín was in a riot. The cyborg/robots remind her of the police—one of whom shot at her in the window.
    • And back at the hospital they're trying to find Dr. Redding; they think there's a crisis in her brain.
    • And whoops, back in the future, where Hawk (who used to be Innocente) is piloting a craft into battle.
    • They chat about what Hawk will do with herself as an adult, and then they attack.
    • So this is laser-battle sci-fi, but the excitement is somewhat mitigated by the fact that it's really not clear what's going on.
    • Also, is Connie in the future? Which future? Or is her brain just messed up because of the implant?
    • And when she wakes up they've taken out those implants.
    • And she seems to be getting better… but secretly she's decided she's at war.
  • Chapter 18

    • Tina and Captain Cream have had the contraptions put in their brain. Sybil hasn't yet.
    • But Sybil is mad at Connie, because Connie has been a goodie two-shoes, volunteering to do everything around the ward.
    • Connie's trying to wait for her moment to strike.
    • She still wants to figure out how to escape.
    • Connie and Sybil chat and reconcile. Sybil wants to get out too.
    • Dolly comes in; she says that Connie might be able to visit.
    • Connie begs to go home on Thanksgiving.
    • Dolly vacillates.
    • So Connie tries calling Luis himself.
    • She promises to help make the Thanksgiving dinner; basically she's promising to be his servant if he'll let her out.
    • The doctors take her off for more testing. She fantasizes about escape.
    • She's having trouble contacting Luciente. It's not clear why. Did Luciente die in the war?
    • Time passes. Captain Cream has had more operations and now is completely messed up.
    • Connie calls Luis again. He enjoys seeing her beg. He's a pretty horrible person.
    • Then he says, "maybe" he'll let her come back. He likes having her uncertain.
    • But he does in fact agree to have her come home.
    • Connie says goodbye to Sybil; Sybil tells her to run, if she can. Sounds like good advice.
    • Connie goes home to Luis.
    • You might think this would be a relief after the asylum. In fact, though, it's kind of the most depressing part of the book.
    • Nobody can make you miserable like family.
    • She's thrilled with the space and with being able to eat pie… but she also has to listen to Luis talk about himself. A lot.
    • She hopes to escape from her room at night, but Luis locks her in.
    • The next day she helps Adele make dinner. Adele bullies her; she doesn't treat Connie as any more of a human than the doctors did.
    • They have an unpleasant Thanksgiving where Luis bullies everyone, including his son and Dolly (whom he says is fat even though she's gotten thinner and thinner from taking speed).
    • Adele seems to be on drugs of some sort too.
    • Connie has to clean up afterwards.
    • She steals a bread knife, hoping to open the bedroom door with it in the night, but it doesn't work.
    • The next day, Luis takes her out to his greenhouse to get plants for a party at his house. The supervisor doesn't have time to deal with it, so he tells Connie to do it herself.
    • That gives her the chance to get a really nasty poison.
    • It's not clear what she's going to do with it.
    • Though when she gets back to the house, she thinks about putting it in Luis's coffee.
    • But she decides not to, because he reminds her of Martín and because she used to love him when they were young and he was her much-admired older brother.
    • The drive to get ahead has made Luis awful, but she used to care for him.
    • Also, he once bought her a scarf.
    • So, if you've got a little sister (or brother) get them a scarf. It may save your life.
    • She puts the poison in a shampoo bottle to take back with her as a weapon.
    • She worries that Luciente is dead, though she thinks that she herself is the one who is dead and has ceased to be receptive.
  • Chapter 19

    • Connie is back in the hospital.
    • She and Sybil are going to be operated on soon.
    • Connie tells Sybil to escape; she gives her some money (left over from Dolly) and she tells her that Wednesday afternoon there will be a lot of confusion.
    • She tries to talk to Luciente, but it's hard. But she doesn't have anything else to do so she keeps trying.
    • Finally she gets through.
    • Luciente tells her that they were never fighting in the floaters. She thinks it may be a hallucination or vision, or something that happened in a different time continuum, or a different future.
    • Hawk says she's leaving to be with a performing troupe. Luciente is sad about Jackrabbit, but is still working.
    • Connie asks Luciente if it's wrong to kill.
    • Luciente says when you're being oppressed sometimes you have to fight back, and sometimes you have to kill, even if it's not right.
    • Connie says she's planning on killing people. Guess who?
    • The party goes on, Connie sees Dawn, who reminds her of her daughter, and then she zaps back to the past.
    • Connie is determined but frightened.
    • Next day she goes to the doctors to be interviewed.
    • They tell her they're going to operate on her.
    • Then they dismiss her.
    • She goes away, gets rid of the guard Tony by pretending she's confused, and dumps the poison into the coffee pot.
    • She goes back to her room and waits.
    • On the way she sees Sybil and tells her to be ready. (We never find out if Sybil escapes or not.)
    • She realizes she's cut herself off from Luciente and the future, but she's not sorry.
    • She hospitalized and maybe killed four of the doctors: probably Dr. Argent, Dr. Redding, Dr. Hodges, and Dr. Acker. Dr. Morgan was cutting down on coffee, and Ms. Moynihan seems sick but not in need of hospitalization.
    • Connie seems to think she has ensured the future by her act, though it's hard to tell whether she has or hasn't.
  • Chapter 20

    • The last chapter is just a list of Connie's medical records; you get to see how the doctors saw her.
    • They think she's disorganized, stupid, and schizophrenic. They don't even realize she tried to escape; they just think she got confused and wandered away.
    • At the end, we learn that Connie is being sent back to the asylum at Rockover. Presumably they didn't operate on her, since the doctors are all dead. They must consider her very dangerous, though; it seems unlikely she'll ever get out.
    • And that's the end. Cheerful, huh?