Thursday, June 30, 2016

9th Canadian Challenge - 21st Review - The Heart Goes Last

I've already touched on the overriding feature of this book, Atwood imagines a near future where the U.S. Midwest/Rustbelt has suffered a devastating economic collapse, and the vast majority of residents are scrambling to survive.  This leads the main couple of the novel (Stan and Charmaine) to go to a seminar, where instead of pitching timeshares in Florida, the organizers are recruiting people to move to the planned town of Consilience.  The organizing principle of Consilience is that half the town's population is incarcerated in Positron Prison, but the real kicker is that everyone switches roles each month.  Even knowing this (and being warned by his ex-con brother, Conor, not to sign up) Stan feels that there are no other reasonable options, and he agrees to join up.  Charmaine was basically sold the moment she found out that they would be sleeping in beds again (or at least a kind of prison cot half the time), instead of in their car.

Stan gets an "outside" job repairing the scooters that every rides around town (the few cars are reserved for the town's security forces) and on the months he is in prison, he is responsible for monitoring the chickens, grown to feed the town and prison population.  In general, the prisoners (not really being criminals) are put to good economic use, though there are indeed pressures to make the prison more profitable.

One month, Stan finds a note from the alternate tenants in his house -- Jasmine has penned a love note to Max -- and Stan finds himself fantasizing about meeting Jasmine on the switch-over day, since his love life with Charmaine is not as fulfilling as it once was.  In his efforts to find out more about Jasmine, Stan ends up learning quite a few of Consilience's secrets...

This is definitely one of the more plot-driven novels by Atwood that I have read.  (The trade-off is that the characters are all fairly shallow and we don't have much philosophizing in the book.)  It is a fast read, and I thought I would read it over 4 or so days, but on my second day of reading, I got quite hooked and stayed up late to finish it. 

I think it would be unfair to reveal more of the plot now, particularly as the book is still quite new (2015) and it is better to experience the various reveals first-hand.  I will say that little is what it appears, and I certainly wonder if Atwood was at all influenced by Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series (where aliens are behind this massive scheme to resurrect all humans, though I can't even remember their ultimate motivations) or Dayworld, which offers up a vision of people switched on and off over different days of the week (with a few Daybreakers who cross into other times where they don't belong, a bit like Stan incidentally).  Since Atwood has talked in the past about how she doesn't really read SF, she may have been more likely to have watched and been influenced by David Cronenberg's eXistenZ, where nothing is quite as it seems.  That's a fairly apt description of The Heart Goes Last.  The novel probably won't make my top ten list for the year, but it was an entertaining romp with several unexpected twists.  It might be worth reading just to see how Atwood approaches the thriller genre, since it certainly isn't the type of novel she typically writes.

No comments:

Post a Comment