[Book Review] The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last / Margaret Atwood (Powell's Books)

A dystopian story of desperation, greed, for-profit prisons, and the sex lives of those caught up in it all.

For Stan and Charmaine, the Positron Project seems like a gift from Heaven.  A home of their own and guaranteed jobs, even if it's tempered with alternating months spent as prison inmates, is a vast improvement over living in their car and surviving on Charmaine's meager tips.  The isolation from the world at large seems a small price to pay for safety and security.  But little things don't seem to add up, and when Charmaine begins a torrid affair with Stan's "alternate" a chain of events is set into motion that threatens the secrets of those in charge, and puts Stan and Charmaine in danger.

I didn't fall in love with the story immediately.  The start felt off, disjointed, as it tried to drop me inside both of Stan and Charmaine's lives.  It's when they reached their supposed utopia with all it's cracks that things began to get interesting.  The characters have their flaws, Charmaine may cheat on Stan, but Stan himself stalks the woman he believes to be Charmaine's alternate with intend to force himself upon her.  Stan is pulled into a dangerous game where he's used and sexually abused by a woman pursuing revolution.  The supporting cast has less depth, seen only through Charmaine and Stan's eyes, their true thoughts and motivations hidden from Stan, Charmaine, and the reader.  We see the faces that they present, lacking their thoughts and introspection.

Ultimately as things unraveled I found myself drawn more and more to the story, less willing to put it down.  The Heart Goes Last may push the bounds of believable future, but it also never goes fully into the unbelievable.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Doubleday Books via Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.


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