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Suzanne Blume finished up her day's lecture on the First Amendment in the cavernous auditorium and shook off the students who immediately surrounded her. She was the first woman ever to be permitted to teach constitutional law at the university, and she generally over-prepared, as she overprepared everything from occasional holiday suppers with her daughters to every case she had ever taken on. But today she had no time for the students, as she had to get to her office and change from her university outfit of trim slacks, silk blouse, and blazer to her navy court suit, same blouse. Like every woman litigator she knew, she had a whole wardrobe of navy suits, gray suits, one daring one in charcoal. She took sheer panty hose from her middle drawer where she kept makeup for court, scarves for court, and dumped her dangling earrings. She kicked off her high-heeled boots and put on her pumps. At five foot three, she was too small for her role in the world. In spite of the backaches they gave her, she always wore heels in public.
Now she ran in them down the hall and to the parking lot. She had given the keys to her Toyota to her assistant, Jaime, and he had the car waiting at the door. He drove. She sat in the back reading her notes as he headed for downtown Boston. She would get there a little early for the afternoon session, but she would need time to run over her presentation. It was important never to appear to falter before the judges, but always to sound confident and a little diffident at once-especially as a woman.
She loved appellate work, because it was nice and tidy and controllable. It didn't offer the punch and zing ofregular trial work, but she had started doing it when she still had the girls at home. It was scholarly, it was somehow soothing, points of law instead of Main Street at High Noon. It had its advantages and its drawbacks, but it wore less on her than trying cases. It demanded enormous meticulous preparation, which she customarily did in every case, but far less time in court: say, one morning as opposed to a month or several months. The power lines stood Out quite clearly: she usually faced several white male judges from an upper-middle-class background in their archaic robes, operating from a view of the world she did nor share but expected of them. The defendant was seldom present. Unless it was an exceptionally high-profile case, no reporters bothered.
"Can I come in to observe?" Jaime asked, breaking into her concentration.
"Park the car first." She thought for a moment. "Why not? It's good for you to observe. Just keep your mouth shut."
"Thanks, Suzanne. I'll never say a word."
He was a blend of American Black and Filipino, beautiful and wary, bright but overly sensitive. He was far from his family and had adopted Suzanne almost at once. She did not mind. She had only been teaching for the last twelve years, but in that time, she had acquired a hundred honorary offspring. Some fell in love with her, some were confrontational, some leaned, some whined, some flattered, but they all stayed in touch, and she remembered every one. Maybe she had done better with her academic children than with her blood children. Nowadays universities hired few lawyers with courtroom experience, but when she had been approached, she had already been involved with the university clinic-and the university was eager to hire a couple of women because of affirmative action.
She forgot Jaime as soon as she entered the courtroom. It was always that way: a case closed over her and she lived inside it. The appeal was on a murder conviction of a woman who had shot her ex-husband because she claimed he was abusing their daughter, of whom he had custody. He was a doctor. She was a laid-off librarian getting by on temporary office work. The question of the appeal of course was not whether she had shot her ex-husband, whether he had abused their daughter sexually, bur rather if she had received adequate representation from the court-appointed counsel. Suzanne had amassed two good precedents and argument from the transcript. The prosecutor was the same one who had obtained the original conviction. She knew him well from her years of practicing: good but a little overaggressive. She began to review her brief in the half-hour to forty-five minutes that would knock off the cases on the agenda before hers. At one point she noticed Jaime had slipped into a seat in the last row. What she remembered as she talked was the pale, drawn face of her client. She was taking this on pro bono. The woman had no money, and her family had exhausted its resources. She remembered too the girl Celia, terrified, placed in a foster home for the last year.
This was an appellate court and nowhere but in her mind would the faces of the convicted woman and her frightened daughter ever appear. Justice to Suzanne was about people, but here it was all about argument and precedent and the power of the judges. It was the law, questions of the law: these judges being male, like the lower court judge, should not be as much a problem as it had been in the original trial. It shouldn't bear so heavily upon the case that these judges would never willingly believe that a good professional man, a doctor of their own class, would discard his wife into poverty and make use of his own child sexually. No, she would only be arguing points of the law, but in her mind always she would know for whom she was fighting and why: the daughter, Celia; the mother, Phoebe, whom she had visited last Saturday at Framingham, the women's prison outside Boston. She could not make Phoebe understand that the judge would not hear arguments about whether her ex-husband had sexually abused her daughter, the act that had fractured Phoebe's world. Phoebe didn't understand, but it was not necessary that she should. Suzanne would win for her and get her back Celia. Ultimately Phoebe was right: that was the only thing that mattered. Suzanne was in her proper element, a legal fight, with the arguments marshaled in her memory like a row of soldiers ready to go into battle. The adrenaline sang in her muscles and in her mind. She remembered once taking her younger daughter Rachel to a presentation by a raptor specialist, when Rachel was eleven and impassioned by anything ecological. The woman had with her a hawk, hooded. As soon as everyone was settled, the lecturer removed the hood and the hawk gleamed into life, eyes glittering, looking for prey, eager for action. Fierce and utterly focused: that was what Suzanne felt like in court, that unhooded bird of prey. Finally it was her turn to rise and, in ten minutes, to present her case for appeal.
"I write character-centered fiction, which means it is almost never high concept, and my plots are neither tight nor ingenious... Most of what happens simply proceeds from the interaction of the characters with one another and their environment, their history, their circumstances." -Marge Piercy, "Life of Prose and Poetry: An Inspiring Combination," The New York Times, Dec. 20, 1999.A teenager's secret menage a trois, a desperate suicide, a police shooting, a forbidden affair, and a mercy killing are just some of the events experienced by three women, all mothers and daughters, in Marge Piercy's immensely moving novel. Like all of us, these three women fashion their worlds from their habits and hopes only to encounter the unpredictable tragedies that shake or shatter us, leaving us fractured and changed -- but perhaps emerging from the pain, as Hemingway wrote, "stronger in the broken places." Told from each character's point of view in alternating chapters, Three Women lets us watch, like a peeping Tom through a window, the most intimate and emotional moments of three lives.
Suzanne Blume, the first woman to teach Constitutional Law at a Boston university, is, at five foot three, "too small for her role in the world." Divorced, heading for menopause, and embracing life with gusto, she litigates explosive legal cases, has met an interesting man over the Internet, and is about to have her meticulously organized days thrown into chaos when both her difficult-to-please mother and troubled oldest daughter suddenly move into her home.Beverly, Suzanne's mother, has always been a firecracker.A political organizer for half a century, she has dared to take lovers, have a child on her own, and fight for justice in the factories and streets. An independent, feisty, opinionated woman, her raison d'être, or reason for existing, is to help others in need. A stroke is about to profoundly alter that. Elena, a ravishing dark-haired beauty now in her late twenties, is the "problem child" of the family. While her sister Rachel, clearly her mother's favorite, is studying to be a rabbi and planning her wedding, Elena has bounced from job to job. Haunted by a tragedy from her teenage years, she distances herself from her emotions, prefers sex to love, and now, fired again and adrift, she has come back home. With immense empathy and insight into women's feelings, Marge Piercy shows us what happens when these mothers and daughters are confronted by the conflicting forces of resentment and love. They face, in Suzanne's neat middle class home outside of Boston, a coming together that becomes a final chance to learn what they never have before -- how to appreciate each other's gifts and tolerate faults; how to balance one's own needs with the demands of family; and how to make the choices that are never easy, but that give us our dignity, release our passions, and allow us to be our authentic selves. Discussion Questions
About the Author: Marge Piercy is one of America's finest poets and novelists. Making her living entirely from her writing, conducting writing workshops, and giving poetry readings, she has created a impressive body of literary work. Her novels include City of Darkness, City of Light, The Longings of Women; He, She, and It, Woman on the Edge of Time, and Gone to Soldiers. Among her best known collections of poetry are Early Grrrl and The Art of Blessing the Day. An activist and feminist, she lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts with the author and publisher Ira Wood, and four cats.
Posted February 28, 2013
Posted July 11, 2013
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