The Heart Goes Last

theheartI’m still not sure what to think of this book.  Am I totally sketched out by how twisted it is?  Am I frightened by the social commentary of where the US is going with the commercialization of prisons?  Am I twisted about the fact that I couldn’t even find one character to like in the book?

Having read books like The Blind Assassin and The Handmaid’s Tale, I really wasn’t prepared for this book.  It was funny and scary and fairly course in parts.

The story of a post economic meltdown world where people live in their cars and try to avoid the roving bands of criminals that have taken over.  Stan and Charmaine are reaching the end of their ropes.  They had pictured a white picket fence life together, but instead Charmaine is working part time at a sleazy bar trying to withstand the lure of the money prostitution would bring.  They are subsisting on day old donuts and instant coffee made in their car.

Into the desolation comes a commercial for a job opportunity where you get a regular house, work at a regular job, and live a storybook life.  It doesn’t seem to bother them that this is too good to be true and signing a lifetime binding contract might require some reading.

So, you do get a nice house and a good job.  For half the year.  The other half of the year you’re in prison.

Charmaine soon shows her weird side, mixing her Grandmother’s cliches with a fairly dark side.  Her prison job involves eliminating people and she finds a way to justify this to herself.  Meantime, Stan is cracking under the pressure of the perfection of this world.

It’s impossible to summarize all of the crazy plot twists (flying across the country disguised as an Elvis sex robot in a coffin?).  The long view is that it is social commentary on the excesses of capitalism and a world where people make money on taking away the rights of others.  The way power cracks people and turns their ethics upside down.  And the danger of the lures of a ‘normal life’.

I’m not sure this is Atwood’s best work, but it’s still a great book and a frightening look at an extrapolated future.

Beware of blue knitted teddy bears!


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