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?