The Heart Goes Last
By Margaret Atwood
This speculative fiction offering from Margaret Atwood was more difficult for me to stay with compared with other books she’s written. The premise wasn’t the troubling part. Stan and Charmaine lose their jobs (like pretty much everyone else) as the economy of the US shifts to the west coast and the economy and society collapse generally. They are reduced to living in their car and are constantly worried about being robbed, raped, and killed by roving gangs. This is a scenario that doesn’t seem unrealistic or surprising, unfortunately. They learn about the Positron Project and quite readily sign on board. They are in a cycle whereby they spend one month working in the town of Consilience and living in a nice townhouse. The next month they spend in prison, working in jobs there while living separated by gender, but safe. Then they cycle back to their townhouse and “town” jobs. The couple settles into this situation for a while and generally feels safe and satisfied. Premise established; not what?
Charmaine finds herself in a sexual affair with the man who occupies their house during Stan and Charmaine’s prison month and then Stan starts his own sexual fantasies about the woman who shares their house. The book then follows the various twists and turns of their situation and a number of unsavory and twisted people they encounter along including characters who have been subjected to some of the experiments of the bad-guy owners of the Positron Project. The plot feels forced (“what am I going to do with these bland, boring characters”) and is very heavily focused on various sexual fantasies and actions happening around the couple.
I made it to the end of the novel and was mildly pleased with how Stan and Charmaine are treated in the end. Some reviewers describe the book as a dark madcap comedy. Although I have regularly felt Atwood’s dark humor in her other books, this one was disappointing and I just wanted it to be over. I would, however, strongly recommend Atwood’s “The Year of the Flood” for a better example of her brilliance in taking the reader for a look at the possible not too distant future and keeping the reader willingly thinking and reading until the very end.