19

Any other Marge Piercy fans here? I have started rereading Vida, and she is so damn good at the overt and covert power struggles between women and the "nice guys" in their lives.

For those who have not read it, Vida is a political fugitive in the US, facing 20 years in prison if she is caught. She was the most visible (female, red-haired, attractive) member of a radical cell adjacent to the Weathermen. But that was 10 years ago, and she has been surviving underground by moving from place to place, using a network of current activists, former political allies gone respectable, old friends and old lovers. The book starts with a dinner between herself and Hank, one of the former activists gone respectable, in Hank's apartment with a view of the New York skyline. "Like a bad date" thinks Vida, smiling and fending off his insistence on refilling her wine glass, and planning how to evade his sexual expectations while still getting what she needs to survive from him--a place to stay, discretion, money to live and move on, information about others in their circle, and his company on a walk to the nearby pharmacy (because the area is dangerous for women and she can't afford an incident) to get hair dye and tampons.

Any other Marge Piercy fans here? I have started rereading *Vida*, and she is *so damn good* at the overt and covert power struggles between women and the "nice guys" in their lives. For those who have not read it, Vida is a political fugitive in the US, facing 20 years in prison if she is caught. She was the most visible (female, red-haired, attractive) member of a radical cell adjacent to the Weathermen. But that was 10 years ago, and she has been surviving underground by moving from place to place, using a network of current activists, former political allies gone respectable, old friends and old lovers. The book starts with a dinner between herself and Hank, one of the former activists gone respectable, in Hank's apartment with a view of the New York skyline. "Like a bad date" thinks Vida, smiling and fending off his insistence on refilling her wine glass, and planning how to evade his sexual expectations while still getting what she needs to survive from him--a place to stay, discretion, money to live and move on, information about others in their circle, and his company on a walk to the nearby pharmacy (because the area is dangerous for women and she can't afford an incident) to get hair dye and tampons.

13 comments

Yes, yes, yes! I love Marge Piercy passionately! Vida is probably my second favourite of her books, with Braided Lives being No. 1, by a long way. Have you read Braided Lives? It is super relevant today, given what is happening in Texas, as it is (partly) about abortion and what happens when women do not have access to safe, legal abortions.

To my mind, Piercy is the pre-eminent feminist fiction writer - you (general you, not you OP) can keep your Margaret Atwoods and Marilyn Frenchs! Piercy is the corrective to all those male writers who cannot see women as people: her female characters are fiercely alive and rounded individuals. I have a signed first edition of Braided Lives and I treasure it - I must have read it 50 times since I first read it at uni 35 years ago.

You (OP!) have made me want to read Vida again. I’ve probably read it about 15 times but it’s been a while. As well as the accommodations and trade-offs between women and men, it’s also brilliant on female friendship. I also want to reread Gone to Soldiers, her epic WWII novel.

She's great, she's got staying power, and she's got ambition.

I would put Braided Lives as my number one as well. Vida is number three at the moment. I have a soft spot for Small Changes as the first Marge Piercy, and possibly one of the first explicitly feminist novels, I ever read. When I visited Boston and New York, I saw them through Small Changes. And since I came up through STEM myself, some of Miriam's scenes are so real they hurt.

I also have a soft spot for The High Cost of Living. I could take or leave Honor and Bernie, but I care about Leslie and her struggles to reconcile what she wants (academic status and middle-class stability) and what she will have to give up (integrity, loyalty to friends, being out as a lesbian). And for The Longings of Women for Mary, a divorced woman in her sixties surviving as one of the invisible homeless.

Note to those who haven't read it: Small Changes is set in the early sixties, during the counter-culture and early women's liberation movement. It centers on two women, one a young working class woman escaping her marriage and her husband's and family's assumption that having babies will "fix" her, and the other a highly intelligent, sensual, emotionally vulnerable woman studying and working in computer science. But they have a whole community of friends, housemates and lovers who are attempting to create new ways of being and relating, while trying to give up (or not give up but not get caught not giving up) the old.

Hey! I'm reading Woman on the Edge of Time right now. A friend lent it to me with the highest praise. There is a lot to like about it, but I've actually had some problems with it too, that maybe I wouldn't have had pre-trans craze. Would love to talk about it with anyone else whose read it.

I was not as fond of Woman on the Edge of Time when I read it as I maybe should have been. For one thing, I hated the ending. It was inevitable, it worked, and I still hated it. I also prefer my SF worlds to stand alone rather than being used as a tool to comment on the present day. On the other hand, I appreciate the way that Piercy considers science and technology and its implications for society and human freedom throughout her work.

I read it just prior to my peaking so around 2017ish. I really loved it but wasn't sold by the gender free world. I loved the present day parts about impacts of daily struggles on mental health & the oppression of the mental health system

Yes, those parts really spoke to me too. I'm actually pretty interested in whether some of what we label "severe mental illness" is actually, like Connie, just having access to other realities that most people don't. I don't know that we can definitely say that's not what's happening.

But yes, the gender free world has felt...unsettling in our current climate. Especially the universal pronoun "per", and males nursing. I don't think the answer to sexism is pretending that there is simply no difference between the sexes. I think sometimes we get stuck in they way of thinking that acknowledging differences means accepting hierachy. That one has to be better. My cat is different than a dog. She has different dietary needs, different needs for play and different kids of affection she likes than most dogs. I feel like one of the failures of feminism has been to claim there are no fundamental differences between the sexes, but to me, that serves us about as well as it would serve my cat to treat her as if she was a dog.

I agree, there are differences between males & females. Saying that there isn't is a tenet of feminism that isn't coherent & has stifled further understanding. The differences are acknowledged in some ways (male violence, sexual pathology for example) but then explained away as all because of socialisation. Also the ethos of 'women can do anything men can do' - how could a female firefighter carry a man twice her size out of a fire? Do we really want male nannies given the risk of paedophiles? The denial of sex differences undermines feminism

It's a thought experiment, in dialog with other thought experiments of the time, and a counterpoint to much of preceding SF in which women figure only so far as to affirm the heterosexual masculinity of the male protagonists, and children not at all.

I read Woman on the Edge of Time in school, we had to study it (and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, ugh) for English. Liked it at eighteen but I doubt I would now.

Sounds really interesting, thanks for sharing. I have never heard of this author before but will check her out.

This sounds amazing. I read an early novel of hers (Going Down Fast), set in urban-renewal-era Chicago, and loved it. After that I only heard about Woman On the Edge of Time and skipped it because I don’t read scifi. But Vida sounds like I’ll have to check it out. I love books about what revolutionaries do after they’re done with revolution. Thanks for the rec!

This is more a "during revolution" book, but Piercy's City of Darkness, City of Light is about the French Revolution, with viewpoint characters of three men - Georges Danton, Maximilian Robespierre, and Marie Jean Nicholas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet - and three women - Pauline Leon, Claire Lacombe, and Manon Roland. Piercy refracts the historical story through a feminist and activist viewpoint.