Margaret Atwood has a gift when it comes to near future novels. In her new novel, The Heart Goes Last, a couple finds themselves facing homelessness and struggling to eek out even the most basic of an existence. Living out of their car after losing great paying jobs, Stan and Charmaine have exhausted all options of moving back up in the world. Their nation is overwhelmed with debt and most jobs have either been outsourced or moved to the West Coast. Conner, Stan’s brother, is enjoying a lawless life and offers to help his brother for a price, but Stan fears for his wife. After seeing a commercial for The Positron Project, Stan and Charmaine opt to try a new life in a planned community. The Positron product provides its citizens with a home, a job and all the necessities of life, every other month. On alternate months, Stan and Charmaine must enter Positron Prison, where they make goods and raise food options for the community. Prison isn’t as bad as it sounds, and both Stan and Charmaine seem to have found a purpose. That is, until Charmaine begins a new position at the prison. Charmaine is tasked with injecting dissidents with a special poison via lethal injection. While she fears what she is doing is wrong, she also feels it must be her duty to protect the project. She also begins to have an affair on switch over days. Under the guise of Jasmine, Charmaine and the man who lives in her and Stan’s home on alternate months, Max, have vivid and torrid trysts in unfinished homes in the community. After Charmaine poorly leaves a tawdry note intended for Max in plain site, Stan begins to doubt his wife’s loyalty. He also begins to doubt the Positron Project. When he is not sent back to prison the following month, Stan soon finds himself under the control of one of the observers of the Positron Project. and involved in a complex plot to get the truth out to the general public.
Margaret Atwood creates such a complex world in The Heart Goes Last that it becomes very easy to find oneself caught in the pages and unable to put the book down. The complexities of a marriage torn apart by the idea of infidelity and the idea of what it means to be a sexual being are explored in this book. The Positron Project may create food, but it also produces sex robots. Atwood deftly discusses the sheer terrifying concept of having someone make a sex robot of one’s likeness, as well as the dangerous lines that can be crossed when the object is inanimate and not an actual breathing human being. The Heart Goes Last also explores what happens when we have our will taken away and replaced with the will of others. Atwood does not shy away from the concepts of carnal passion and love, as well as the importance of desires. It is a combination of these desires and the desires of others for celebrities and concepts that help flesh out the future Atwood has imagined.
The Heart Goes Last holds fascinating ideas of the future, laugh out loud dialogue and terrifying images of what happens when consumerism and desire take over basic logic. The book is deeply fascinating and disturbing in equal measure.