Author: Margaret Atwood
Rating: 2.5 stars
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.
When I saw a new Margaret Atwood book up on Netgalley, I pounced on it. I haven’t read all of Atwood’s work, but what I have read I love, and I was really excited to get to read this. Unfortunately, to me The Heart Goes Last ended up feeling kind of flimsy and flat, especially in comparison with Atwood’s other great works.
In a dystopian near-future, young married couple Stan and Charmaine find themselves living in their car, out of work, evading gangs of rapists and thieves. They sign up for the Consilience project, which initially seems to answer all of their problems. In exchange for spending every other month in a prison, they are given a house and jobs in a sort of gated community (Modeled on the 50s where everything was pure and innocent, naturally). Of course this all goes south relatively quickly, and their marriage vows are put to the test in the process.
The best aspect of this short novel was it’s dark humor. It was a little bit on the nauseating side for me (it includes such oddities as people having sex with chickens and teddy bears), but it was funny. The voices of the story were well realized. The problem was that I didn’t like any of the characters. Sometimes that’s ok–an advantage, even–but here I feel like you really need to connect with the characters or else the whole thing feels like a pointless farce.
Charmaine is a scatter-brained idiot. A funny one, but after a while it got tiring laughing at her. Stan is a gross asshole. These are your “heroes”, and everyone else is either flat as cardboard or exaggerated to unreal proportions.
I also didn’t enjoy the dystopian element much. It felt needlessly convoluted and complex. It got to a point where it felt like Atwood was moving characters around just for the sake of it. The plot did not serve the characters, the characters were not changed meaningfully by the plot.
Perhaps if I was married I would approach this book differently. Perhaps it says profound or witty things about the institution of marriage. I suspect not, but I’m willing to concede the possibility.