Margaret Atwood is most well known for her patriarchal classic taught in many English classes these days, The Handmaid’s Tale. Her fans have been eagerly awaiting her latest speculative fiction, The Heart Goes Last, originally published as ebook novellas and now available as a full novel.
Stan and Charmaine are living in their car, broke after an economic collapse that caused much of the east coast to migrate west, where opportunities can still be found, and everyone else to figure out how to survive. Charmaine waits tables while Stan does his best to find anyone who will hire him. When Charmaine sees a commercial for the Positron Project in the town of Consilience, promising employment and a place to live, she thinks it could be the answer to their problems.
Of course, there’s a catch. Residents of Consilience spend 6 months of the year living in their assigned home, working their assigned job, and the other 6 months in the Positron prison. They share living space with alternates, another couple who is in the prison when they’re not. Stan is curious about the other couple who live in his home, but it’s not until he finds a love note that he begins fantasizing about their life.
From there the story takes a dark and weird turn, as Stan and eventually Charmaine learn they’re just pawns in a chess game they didn’t even know existed. They’re desperate for safety and comfort and don’t want to believe everything is not what it seems, and they go from accepting of their inability to leave the town to trying to find a way out.
While I checked the box for “Sci Fi/Fantasy” under categories for this post, Atwood considers her work to be speculative fiction. The economic collapse in 2008 could have turned out much worse than it did had the economy not rebounded, and the events of The Heart Goes Last are possible, if a bit bizarre, which makes the story all the more spine-chilling.
I enjoyed this story, but it does have some events that had me scratching my head. I’ve seen it described as funny and sexy, and I’m not sure I agree with either of those adjectives. I do think it’s a story that will make you think and possibly even fear for our future.