Monday, May 22, 2017

The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (2015)

The economy has collapsed and Stan and Charmaine live together in their car, driving from place to place to avoid being attacked. But they learn about a way out: they can move into a nice community and live in a lovely house and have good jobs. The price? Spending every other month in prison, while their house is inhabited by a couple who are in prison on the opposite months. They sign on, and for a while it works out pretty well. The prison is fairly nice and they have jobs there too, and they get into the routine of being separated every other month and then coming back together in their house. But when one of them gets a little too interested in one of the people who lives in the house while they are away at prison, things begin a slow downward spiral.

In order for the experimental town of Consilience (Cons + Resilience!) to work, everyone must abide by very strict rules. For one thing, once you sign on, you're there for life. For another, your lives must be totally separate from your Alternates, the people you share your house with. You don't have have many possessions: the lawnmower at your house belongs to the town and is shared with your Alternates and if they don't take care of it, you just have to suck it up. Jobs are assigned, in prison as well as outside. Charmaine was proud to have a job that not many people could do, but she needed to not think very much about what she was actually doing. If anything falls out of whack - like having an affair with one of your Alternates - it puts you in grave danger.

The Heart Goes Last is a dystopia, but a more subtle dystopia than is typical since it's the most like real life in many ways. The town of Consilience is a corporate solution to some serious societal problems, and it's a solution that does not hold human life at a very high value. People are not able to exercise very much free will, nor do they have many rights. I don't know how far in the future it is supposed to be. The economy has tanked, leaving many people without jobs, but there's not much other information about what's happening on a national, or global, scale. Technology has clearly advanced, though. There are sexbots that are quite realistic and available in a disturbing age range, and they're developing a surgery that alters a person's brain so that whoever they first see when they wake up is permanently imprinted as the object of their desire. It's all quite disturbing, as was intended.

Despite these elements, it's not an especially dark or depressing book, and that includes the ending. This isn't an environmental apocalypse or anything irreversible like that, it's more about corporate greed which is something that is not impossible to overcome. I had heard mixed reviews of this book when it came out and the Goodreads average rating isn't great, but I actually quite liked it. It's not my favorite of Margaret Atwood's book, but it's really hard to beat The Handmaid's Tale or Alias Grace.

This is the 5th completed book on my list of 12 for my personal reading challenge. Since we're in month 5 out of 12 it appears that I'm right on target, but in fact it makes me a bit behind. For one thing, I'm also supposed to be reading nonfiction in 8 categories and have only completed 3. Additionally, I usually try to get ahead early because over the summer I'll be reading nominations for our Community Read. This year I'll also be reading for the IPNE book awards. So I need to actually make more of an effort. But I guess that's why it's called a book challenge.

Have you read The Heart Goes Last? What other Margaret Atwood books do you love?

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