Margaret Atwood puts the human heart to the ultimate test in an utterly brilliant new novel that is as visionary as The Handmaid's Tale and as richly imagined as The Blind Assassin.
Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes.
At first, this doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one's head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan's life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
We imagine it’s not always easy to be Margaret Atwood, the Canadian novelist who won the Nebula Award for her feminist dystopia, The Handmaid’s Tale. The Heart Goes Last is an equally unsettling story of a not-so-distant future gone horribly wrong. In the aftermath of a financial collapse that’s crippled North America, married couple Charmaine and Stan find themselves living in their car and scraping by on tips from Charmaine’s seedy bar job. You can’t blame them for giving up their freedom for a chance to live in Consilience—a gated community that makes inventive use of prison labor—but you know that decision will blow up in their faces. Atwood is a master storyteller, churning up anxiety and painting vivid, nightmarish scenes that linger in the imagination.
In the dystopian landscape of the unflappable Atwood's (Stone Mattress) latest novel, there are "not enough jobs, and too many people," which drives married couple Stan and Charmaine to become interested in the Positron Project, a community that purports to have achieved harmony. There is a catch, as Positron leader Ed explains: citizens are required to share their home with other couples, alternating each month between time in prison and time at home. It's an odd arrangement, but one that temporarily satisfies Charmaine and Stan until they each fall in love with the alternates they're supposed to never see; their infatuations put the entire Positron arrangement into question. Atwood is fond of intricate plot work, and the novel takes a long time to set up the action, but once it hits the last third, it gains an unstoppable momentum. The novel is full of sly moments of peripeteia and lots of sex, which play alongside larger ideas about the hidden monsters lurking in facile totalitarianism, and, as implied by the title, the ability of the heart to keep fighting despite long odds.
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Atwood’s Still Got It
I would like to thank Doubleday Books & NetGalley for granting me a copy of this e-book to read in exchange for an honest review. Though I received this e-book for free that in no way impacts my review.
Goodreads Teaser: "Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over."
Margaret Atwood delivers another novel of deep interest and entertainment, which will leave the reader contemplating so many things long after they've put the book down. Stan and Charmaine are you're typical middle-class Americans. At least they used to be until everything fell apart. Watching how they each dealt with the daily pressure of finding themselves adrift in a world they no longer recognize is almost like staring into a mirror out of the corner of your eye. You can imagine yourself in their shoes and wonder how you'd be reacting to their situation.
I found Charmaine to be a slightly annoying ninny. She's constantly quoting her grandmother, and the quotes are all just ridiculous platitudes. She avoids anything dark or depressing, shoving all her bad memories into a place she never ventures. Her perpetually upbeat attitude in the face of extreme uncertainty annoyed me, and left me wondering about her husband Stan since he signed on for a life with this ray of blinding sunshine. Yet Stan was a more relatable character for me. He is more upfront and honest about his thoughts and feelings, even if only to himself. Yet sometimes he overloads and does lash out, which makes sense in the story and helped make him feel more realistic than Charmaine to me.
The pacing and arc of the story was smooth, attesting to Atwood's innate storytelling skills. While this book isn't as clearly dystopian as some of her other stories, it's heading that way, which makes it all the more frightening because what she created feels far to close to real for me. The messed up world she envisioned feels as if it's only a few steps away from where we stand now, and there are so many people ready to step in and create their own personal playground out of the entire world.
Although this tale reads as fiction, it certainly touches on highly charged current events, bringing things to light that engenders serious thought. Despite the fictional aspect of the story this is in many ways a very thought provoking novel, and one that will linger in my mind for some time to come. But then that has always been the case with books by the eminently talented Margaret Atwood.
Gets very strange
Loved this book, initially. Couldn’t put it down. Then about 3/4ths of the way through it gets too weird for me. Was disappointed. Oh well!
There’s a half-baked message in here somewhere, but it’s never fully realized.