Yes, the queen of Can-Lit herself has found a place on my blog, but why has it taken this long for me to review one of her books? She was one of my favourite writers growing up, and I continue to enjoy her zany (if somewhat ominous) stories as they continue to roll out, so I really have no excuse for this delay. Therefore, I will try to make this review as special as possible, even if it only features a picture of me rather than my lovely cats.
If you’ve followed Atwood’s latest works, you’ll begin to recognize a pattern. She writes very dire books these days, in fact, she’s almost crossed over into the realm of dystopian fiction completely. Similar to her well-known novel The Handmaid’s Tale, The Heart Goes Last depicts a futuristic, strange community where even stranger things occur. In her latest work, people are cycled through the prison system, given one month in the slammer, and one month out in their fully furnished and beautiful homes. Compared to the destructive, almost Mad Max type of environment that lives outside of these walls, the time in prison seems like a bearable sacrifice to make. And because they are given special jobs in and out of prison, the town is very industrious and successful, so everyone inside the walls is happy. Except…people disappear every once in a while.
Atwood describes this new world through the eyes of Stan and Charmaine, a lovely couple who hit a rough patch in their financial stability, thus becoming members of this community to escape their dire circumstances in the outside world. Stan is probably my favourite character; he has a great sense of humour, and even though he is depicted as a young-ish man, the 76 year old author is spot on when she puts words in his mouth. How does she do it? An upper-class intellectual seems to have her finger on the pulse of the crude, often offensive way that a young man thinks and talks. No, I’m not being sexist here, I’m just showing my appreciation for a writer who seems to be way more in touch with reality than you would think. Plus, I’m married so I know guys really talk like that.
The depiction of the relationship between Stan and Charmaine also makes this novel so appealing. Although their marriage is within the context of a crumbling society, Atwood still manages to offer us a very realistic picture of a ‘suburban marriage’. Charmaine is painfully sweet, so her husband yearns for a more dangerous, sexual partner while he tackles the yardwork. Stan is a typical ‘nice guy’ who becomes more and more distant, so his wife is pushed into the arms of another man in between her shopping trips for new curtains. It feels weird to stay this, but the more time I have to reflect on the book, the more I believe it could actually be called fun. Why? Well, Stan finds himself playing the part of a washed-up Elvis in Las Vegas, so for that reason alone, you need to pick up The Heart Goes Last to find out how he got there.