Imagine a world in which the economy has tanked, jobs have dried up, society has crumbled, and people are doing anything and everything they can just to scrape by. For most of us, such a cataclysmic state of affairs is all too easy to envision, which makes Margaret Atwood’s latest dystopian thriller, The Heart Goes Last, all the more unsettling and eerily prophetic.
Stan and Charmaine are overworked and overextended. Ever since losing their jobs and their house, they have been living out of their car, squeaking by on tips from Charmaine’s lousy bartending job and doing their best to steer clear of the roving bands of vandals that now roam America. They can’t remember the last time they had a good night’s sleep or a proper shower, so when they see the commercial for a compound named Consilience that promises stable jobs and secure homes, they decide that this is their golden parachute. Sure, they have to be monitored 24/7, and every other month they swap their home for a stint in prison, but it’s better than the alternative. Or, at least it is for a little while, until the dark side of paradise begins to rear its ugly head, and the two find themselves grappling with the reality—and the dangers—of signing their lives away and all the unexpected things they’ve sacrificed in the process.
A reworking of a series of short stories originally published by Byliner, The Heart Goes Last is Atwood’s first standalone novel since 2000 and, in many ways, feels like quintessential Atwood. It examines many of the key issues that she has played with throughout her impressive career—the tug-of-war of power and control between citizens and the state, personal autonomy, and corporate and governmental corruption—with the take-no-prisoners ruthlessness that has become her signature. The Heart Goes Last is a heady blend of speculative fiction with noir undertones that is provocative, powerful and will prompt all readers to reassess which parts of their humanity are for sale.