The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

heart last

I got the new Margaret Atwood in prepub last August, and was delaying telling people about it because wasn’t out yet. But now it’s been out forever and I just forgot. Believe it or not, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I had hoped. I admit that I have ridiculously high hopes for Margaret Atwood after a lifetime of reading her books with worshipful fascination. But this one…I had previously read parts of it on Amazon (it was originally published as a series of Kindle shorts), and thought a longer, fleshed-out version it would be better than it  turned out to be. But don’t let this discourage you. Even a less than stellar Atwood is still Atwood, and the woman’s worth reading even at her worst (and I should know, I’ve read Life Before Man).

Charmaine and Stan are a married couple in a very near future North America (I’m not certain whether they are in Canada or the U.S.). The economy has gone so sour that they are living in their car, in constant danger of being murdered for their few possessions. Then Charmaine, who works in a bar where there are televisions, sees a commercial for a new planned community that is accepting applicants. She begs Stan to apply, and while he has serious concerns, he is desperate and they sign up. Their new home is based around a prison (Positron) and the community that supports the prison (Consilience). Residents are to spend one month living in a nice house in Consilience, working at jobs that support the prison, then report the following month to be the prisoners in Positron while their counterparts take their places (home and job) in Consilience. Then, they switch back the following month, and so on. 6 months a worker, 6 months a prisoner – all even and fair. It seems agreeable enough at first. Their house is clean and modern, their jobs are easy, and even being a prisoner isn’t bad for a month at a time. They are a little bored by the routine, and by the fact that they have no contact with anyone outside. Stan is particularly bothered by the fact that the TV shows and the music are cheesy, but he thinks Charmaine is happy, so he’s not complaining. But then Charmaine finds a note under the refrigerator – a sexy love note that causes her to become obsessively attracted to the man who lives in their house when they aren’t there. She leaves him a note back, an affair ensues…and then things get start getting progressively darker and darker.

All in all, I was certainly interested enough in the story, and it’s grimly funny enough to keep anyone going until the end (well, anyone who likes very dark comedy). I’m just sorry that it wasn’t more profound. Most Margaret Atwood novels keep me thinking for years afterward about Big Life Issues, but this one was more like a fun romp that I can look back on fondly but the details are already fuzzy.

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