The Heart Goes Last
by Margaret Atwood
Nan A. Talese
It’s possible to be a fan of an author without liking everything they’ve written. That’s especially true with an author as prolific as Margaret Atwood. I’m a fan of Margaret Atwood’s. Recently she gave a fantastic lecture here in Pittsburgh; afterwards, while holding The Handmaid’s Tale in the book signing line, all I managed to say was a barely-audible “thank you for this.”
The very affordable cost of my lecture ticket included a signed copy of The Heart Goes Last. Unfortunately, Atwood’s newest novel is the sort of book that has a good premise and starts off well, but eventually jumps the shark.
It takes its inspiration from the recent (or current, depending on your circumstances) economic collapse and the uncertainty and desperation faced by people who have lost jobs, homes, and livelihoods.
Such is the plight of Stan and Charmaine who are living in their car and fending off criminals existing in their own stew of desperation. Life is grim for the once middle-class couple when Charmaine learns about Consilience (CON + RESILIENCE = CONSILIENCE, as the reader is reminded way too often) where participants in this social experiment of sorts receive a house and gainful employment … in exchange for doing time in Positron, a prison. They’re in prison one month, doing their prison jobs, and then the next month they get to live in what sounds like a typical suburban McMansion. While they’re doing time, another couple (the “Alternates”) is living in the house. Kind of like a time-share.
Who wouldn’t take that deal, right? It’s not like Stan and Charmaine have many alternatives, so they sign up for the Positron project. All seems to be perfectly fine until Stan finds a note tucked under the fridge … from Jasmine, the other wife who is part of the Alternate couple sharing their their house. He becomes infatuated with this woman and meanwhile, Charmaine starts up an affair with the husband.
As you may have guessed, this doesn’t go well.
And as things became weirder and weirder — slightly less than halfway into the book — Atwood started losing me as a reader. I admit to skimming a considerable portion of it and not caring much about the characters when I was very sympathetic to them in the beginning.
Oh, and there’s an Elvis impersonator as a sex robot. Or something. That part I definitely skimmed over because I. CANNOT. STAND. ELVIS.
(The Husband considers this un-American and feels that I should be required to renounce my citizenship. He can’t imagine how he married someone who dislikes Elvis as intensely as I do.)
I get what The Heart Goes Last was trying to be. I think I do, anyway. It’s a testament to love — that even in the most difficult and corrupt and dire circumstances, we still have the capacity to love. And sometimes the heart takes over and gets the better of us, but that’s what makes us human instead of … well, a sex robot. Most of us, anyway.
This one didn’t work for me. I still love Margaret Atwood, though. I’m just hoping to love my next Atwood read a little more.