The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
The Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood’s latest, carries all the hallmarks of her recent excellent works, especially the Oryx and Crake trilogy. Dystopian situation? Check. Strange, surreal hybrid animals? Check. Sharp social feminist commentary? Check.
Stan and Charmaine are a married couple forced to live in their car after a nationwide economic collapse. One day, at the dive bar where she scrapes in a menial income, Charmaine sees a TV ad that promises a new life, complete with a desirable job, comfortable house, and stylish clothes, to anyone who signs up. The catch? Every other month must be spent in a prison facility. Even with this caveat, the deal is a no-brainer to Charmaine. Soon, she and Stan are beginning their new lives in the town of “Consilience,” next door to Positron prison. How bad could it be? Famous last words of a dystopia, right?
Actually, not that bad, as it turns out. To me, the book almost felt like Atwood-lite. Where were the unsettling implications? The tone starts changing halfway through the book, becoming both more farcical, and almost exclusively fixated on sex and desire. If the book had begun with a “chilling” premise, the reader becomes decidedly un-chilled as the book goes on and the narrative becomes amusing instead of troubling. It even ends relatively happily.
Still, Atwood’s imaginative and darkly humorous prose and aforementioned sharp social commentary make pretty much anything by her worth reading, in my opinion. Lovers of either dystopian books or dark comedy should check this one out. So should die-hard Atwood fans, even if it leaves a little something to be desired.