Wednesday, June 8, 2016

THE HEART GOES LAST by Margaret Atwood

Dystopian novels tend to be pretty bleak, but here Margaret Atwood has injected a lot of humor, so that the tone is quite different.  Charmaine and Stan are a married couple living in their car after an economic collapse has devastated the eastern U.S.  Charmaine is working as a bartender so that they can buy food, but the car is their only defense against the crazed hoodlums who attack in the night.  Then Charmaine hears about a closed community (once in, you can never leave) called Consilience where everyone has a job and decent housing.  She convinces Stan to take the hook.  The premise of the community is that everyone lives as normal people every other month, but on alternate months they are prisoners, doing more menial jobs, while another couple occupies their house.  The two alternating couples are forbidden to meet as they swap places each month, but Charmaine soon finds herself in a reckless affair with Max, who lives in their house while Charmaine and Stan are in prison.  To me this seemed a bit like Cold War Communism, where everyone is working for the good of the community, but the community leaders are definitely reaping some sort of monetary benefits while keeping close tabs on what the citizens are up to.  The humor comes in the form of the funny business between Charmaine and Max and the ramifications for Stan, who finds a lusty note but misinterprets its authorship.  Charmaine and Stan are unwitting pawns in a complicated scheme that involves Elvis robots, blue knitted teddy bears, and a drug that will knock a person out and then cause them to imprint on the first thing they see with two eyes.  The gritty start belies the nutty stuff that happens later in the book, making it both chilling and somewhat absurd at the same time.  This combination appealed to me in a big way.

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