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review 2017-08-03 16:17
The Heart Goes Last - Margaret Atwood

Got almost halfway through and quit, stopped just at chapter 7. This is my first Margaret Atwood book and I did enjoy her writing, just not the story. I grew bored and ended up skimming in the end, even when I came across Jocelyns' plan. I just didn't care. 


Admittedly, it is a bit my fault. The whole idea of Positron/Consilience and this apocalypse-esque landscape drew me in and I was just so gosh darn excited to swan dive in. So excited, in fact, that I hadn't read the summary in the book cover far enough to see that it's about infidelity. 


See, I don't particularly enjoy stories about philandering spouses all that much, even when a unnecessarily convoluted plan by a character in the novel and the novel itself hinges on it. Which I give hearty kudos to Ms. Atwood. I can and do admire that piece of artistic craft even though I did not like nor enjoy it.


I feel as though I've been ambushed. My trust fall turned into a twenty car pile up on the interstate during rush hour due to my own willful ignorance. Go me. Lesson learned: don't text and drive.


While it did affect my experience with the book to a degree, I can't say for sure whether I would've finished it even if I was wise enough to read the summary in its entirety. I was disappointed when I realized the more sci-fi elements, the elements that drew me in, we're regulated to window dressings a.k.a white noise a.k.a. stock background for a family portrait a.k.a. you get my meaning. At least to where I stopped.


It's not a terrible book. It's lovely writing. I found the world interesting and the characters had a solid level of substance and believability to them, even though I didn't care for them. Hence the three stars.


It's just not my cup of tea. But I hope others have better luck. 

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review 2017-04-22 10:17
The Heart Goes Last
The Heart Goes Last: A Novel - Margaret Atwood

This book is over the top and funny while commenting on the risks of our commercialism and the economic risks we are at. It’s over the top with some things, and if you start this looking for something like The Handmaid’s Tale you are going to be disappointed. I enjoyed the humor and the characters in this book and thought the pacing was good, but I didn't realize this was a serialized novel so I also avoided any disappointment from that end.

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review 2017-01-27 19:15
Margaret Atwood: The Heart Goes Last
The Heart Goes Last - Margaret Atwood

I read this over Christmas, so only about a month ago, but it turns out I'd already forgotten half the plot. After briefly refreshing my memory, here's what I've got.


It's the near future and most major industries have collapsed due to an unspecified economic breakdown. Stan and Charmaine are living out of their car, working odd jobs and trying to make ends meet. When they are offered a safe(ish) life in a walled-off experimental town, they don't hesitate for long. The only catch: every other month they have to leave their artificial 1950s bliss for a stint in the town's prison. Meanwhile, alternates take their place – and soon throw their lives into turmoil. 


There are a few things about this novel that are just off, for lack of a better word. The main thing I couldn't get over was how naive and uncritical Charmaine was made out to be. Of course she was meant to be a foil to Stan (and her other, more secret self with Max) and a mirror of this whole 1950s aesthetic and how false it is, but come on: I opened the book at a random page to refamiliarise myself with the novel, and there she is, not even saying, but thinking: "Dang it to heck, I dropped a stitch."


You'd think a woman who has survived economic collapse and post-apocalyptic wastelands would get to swear inside the safety of her own head, but no. It's meant to be satirical, but it just kind of falls flat. And this assessment holds true for a large part of the novel. 


Then there's the respectability politics. Charmaine and Stan are not doing well, but at least they're not those people. Charmaine might be a waitress at the beginning of the narrative, but she can still sneer at sex workers. Stan doesn't have a job and no prospects of getting one, but a life of crime? Unthinkable. 


Margaret Atwood has always had certain blind spots (and penned some remarkable novels nonetheless), but in this book it was especially noticeable that what happens in the world is not a dystopia until it happens to formerly affluent, mentally and physically healthy, heterosexual white people. (For whom else were the 50s a grand time, anyway?)


All of this could have worked, and Atwood tries for an over the top, black humour approach, but it just doesn't, in the end. Work. By the time the last quarter of the book rolled around I was waiting for a very specific twist that might have made it all worthwhile, perhaps, but even that didn't happen. It was just sad to see a great author so out of touch. 

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review 2016-08-21 19:44
The Heart Goes Last (Positron 0.5) by Margaret Atwood
The Heart Goes Last: A Novel (Positron) - Margaret Atwood

Things have gone absolutely to hell. Banks are collapsing, there's little food security, homes are being foreclosed on and unemployment has skyrocketed. Stan has always been steady, especially in comparison to his career criminal brother Conner. He has a job, a reliable wife and house which repairs and values.  It's the typical middle class existence.  When Stan is fired and his wife is laid off, Stan quickly discovers that security is only illusion.  Stan and Charmaine end up living in their car, living on the tips she makes working at a bar, and spending the rest of their time being wary to the criminal element who want to take their possessions.  Everything changes when Charmaine sees an advertisement on television for Positron Project located in the town of Consilence.  If accepted Charmain and Stan will alternate between spending one month in prison and one month occupying a home with a job.  It's absolute security from the struggles of the outside world and all they have to do is give up their freedom.

The Heart Goes Last starts off as dystopian and finishes as speculative fiction.  Given the mortgage crises and the last recession, Atwood clearly chose this setting because of its relevance and reliability. As in reality, the rich continue on consequence free in opulence and privilege while the poor and the middle class struggle to survive and understand the order of the world.  The middle class lie is that if we do everything right get an education, live within our means and do a good job at work that everything will be just fine.  This is the promise and though it's proven to be a lie, when meritocracy is all that stands between you and destitution it's what you hold onto. In that sense Stan is the every man who finds himself in an untenable situation due to forces well beyond his control.

It's Charmaine who first suggests applying for Consilence.  She wants the comfort of a bed with clean sheets and all the trappings of the middle class life.  She's tired of the insecurity and the fear that someone will harm them as they try to sleep in their car. Even before meeting and marrying Stan, Charmaine had a difficult life, filled with abuse neglect and domestic violence. She was then raised by grandmother to be sweet and to only see the bright side of life.  She's almost like a Stepford wife. Consilence is just too good to deny and she's even willing to sleep with Stan in the backseat of the car to make happen.

Interestingly, Consilence encourages people to be their true selves and for Charmaine, that doesn't necessarily mean being the perfect positive wife anymore who submits to sex out of a sense of duty. In the restriction laden life of Consilence she finds herself having an affair. For the first time Charmaine can be the bad girl. The one who wears the bright lipstick and gives voice to all of her slutty desires. In captivity she finds freedom but it comes at a cost. When you give up your agency, you have no control of what someone does with your image.  What if someone want to operate on you to turn you into a subservient sex slave?

The theme of what is stability worth is repeated through the novel.  Is it better to live in ignorance and safety than have knowledge and instability?  Is personal agency valuable if it puts you at risk and makes you responsible for your actions?  Is it easier to simply have the bad things that you've done erased so that you don't have to confront guilt or shame?  What compromises are we willing to make for love and what do we owe our romantic partners?

The Heart Goes Last offers us the POV of both Stan and Charmaine; however, when Stan's point of view moved beyond his economic circumstances to me he read like a misogynist and not once is this fully addressed. Right until the end of the book, he disrespectful  and dismissive of Charmaine, and entitled when it comes to their sex life. He only seems concerned with his own sexual gratification and doesn't think about whether or not Charmaine is sexually satisfied. He spends a good deal of the book worried that his brother Conner will steal Charmaine away from him.  Stan is anything but likable and though he didn't deserve to be repeatable raped, I found his character completely unlikable.

When Charmaine's infidelity is discovered Stan is forced to into a sexual relationship with Jocelyn. Jocelyn forces Stan to act out the sexual activities that Charmaine did with her lover Phil. Atwood writes a lot of about Stan's discomfort and he's feeling of desperation. There's also a clear power imbalance between Stan and Jocelyn yet for some reason, Atwood doesn't seem to feel the need to label this as rape.  At times, Stan's predicament is even played for laughs which is completely unacceptable.  If a person cannot actively consent then it's not a sexual act, it's a sexual assault.



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review 2016-05-24 01:20
Book 37/100: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
The Heart Goes Last: A Novel (Positron) - Margaret Atwood

Around the Year Reading Challenge Item #48: A Dystopia

Don't be discouraged by the fact that this book took me five months to read -- I was reading it on my Kindle, which is pretty much the "slow lane" to my book traffic. (I usually only read it in waiting rooms.) The writing style is accessible and it could be a "fast read," although it's up for debate whether it might be considered "light."

Like most of Atwood's dystopias, this one is thick with social commentary, particularly as regards to sex roles and the consumer packaging of sex. One of my friends gave up on the book halfway in because she felt like there was "too much weird sex stuff," and while uncomfortable in places, it is not purely gratuitous. The book is more dark satire than pure dystopia, so it calls for some suspension of disbelief as relates to the actual premise and the society that Atwood sets up. Atwood is making a point, not showing off her worldbuilding skills.

Still, while the men and women who populate this novel may read like caricatures at times, they are also uncomfortably recognizable. Stan and Charmaine are "average" folk who blunder into a surreal and twisted world during a time of desperation, and the piece ultimately ends up being a strange examination of marriage that manages to be both jaded and strangely hopeful.

I wouldn't recommend this as a first introduction to Atwood, as you almost need to have some familiarity with her work to take this one in context. But if you've enjoyed her in the past and don't mind a little humor in your dystopia or some major darkness in your comedy, you'll probably find this to be a satisfying enough addition to the Atwood science fiction canon.

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