Book Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes LastThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Publisher:  Nan A. Talese
Release Date: September 29, 2015
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their “civilian” homes.

At first, this doesn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one’s head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan’s life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

The country is in a deep depression and Stan and Charmaine have been forced to live in their car, a dangerous situation that offers them little sleep as they are forced to constantly move the car from place to place to avoid gangs who want to steal the car and who knows what else. Charmaine earns a little money working as a waitress. One day at work, she sees an ad for the Positron Project in the community of Consilience. Residents of the community agree to spend their time alternating between their picture perfect home the Project provides for them and a non-violent prison, switching every month. Consilience = Cons + Resilience. What could possibly go wrong? It turns out a lot. Predictably, the Positron Project is not what it seems on the surface.

Every resident has a job both inside and outside of the prison. Stan works in a scooter repair shop in the community and as a chicken farmer inside the prison. Charmaine works in the community bakery on the outside and as Medication Administrator in the prison. Charmaine is so sweet and naive that the bad things she does both in both places were really surprising to me. Yet, I still liked her and even felt sorry for her. Stan, on the other hand, just rubbed me the wrong way even though truly he was mostly the victim in this story.

The atmosphere in this book is a cross between an Orwell novel and The Stepford Wives (which happens to be one of my all-time favorite books). Of course, being an Atwood novel, it reminded me somewhat of The Handmaid’s Tale but in atmosphere only. The Heart Goes On is definitely original and not a repeat of the Handmaid’s Tale. There is more dark humor and I love dark humor when it’s done right.

The last bit of the book involving Elvis impersonators – yes, Elvis impersonators – went a little off the rails for me and is what kept me from giving this book five stars. However, the very ending of the book stunned me. It was the kind of ending that left me thinking about the book for days afterward. This book would make an excellent book club selection for that reason.

I’m a huge Atwood fan and this book did not disappoint.

(I received a complementary review copy of this book.)

  • HeatherAnne Norbury

    I have never read any of Margaret Atwood’s novels. What would you recommend as a first? I’m not a big fan of dark stories though – so hmmm…

    • Rachel

      My favorite Atwood novel is The Handmaid’s Tale but that’s pretty dark – I’d say the darkness level of Brave New World. A book of hers that I really like that is not dark is The Blind Assassin. That would be a good one to start with.

  • S.G. Wright

    Well your review sounds quite positive. I am getting behind on all the Atwood books. The last one I read was Oryx and Crake for my book club which I liked. But Atwood seems to be coming out with books faster now. So I better get on with it …. Nice review