Rating: 4 out of 5
There are a LOT of book bloggers out there, and I think it’s fair to say that most tend to be female students and post-grads who prefer to read young-adult fiction. Or at least, the bloggers I personally follow lean toward that genre, and who can blame them? Oftentimes, YA delivers stories that are more developed and complex than adult genre fiction, and YA dystopia in particular exploded after the publications of The Hunger Games and Divergent.
I would argue, however, that all modern dystopia owes its success to authors, such as George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley–and more recently, to Margaret Atwood. Seriously, I have met this woman in person, and I have to say–if you have not read one of her novels yet, then what the hell are you doing with your life?
The Heart Goes Last is not my favorite Atwood novel (nothing will ever beat The Handmaid’s Tale, in my opinion), but it is an excellent dystopia with a premise that is becoming increasingly more likely, especially in the Bay Area where housing prices are skyrocketing.
The novel stars married couple Stan and Charmaine, who are unemployed and living out of their car after a major market crash left 40% of Americans without jobs. After fending off street gangs and facing the idea of an even bleaker future, it’s no surprise that they decide to join The Positron Project, in which they are provided free housing as long as every other month they live and work in a prison, alternating with another family that occupies the house while they’re doing time.
If you’re wondering why anyone would sign up for a project this strange, then I bet you’re not living in San Francisco, where the median 1-bedroom apartment rents for an astronomical $3,590/month and people are illegally living in trailers, storage containers, and even coffin-sized pods just to get by.
As with every dystopia, once starts off sweet eventually turns sour, and Stan and Charmaine are confronted with grave danger when they meet their Alternates. I won’t give too much away, but this book asks extremely difficult moral questions about how far you’d go to save your own skin.
What’s more interesting than the nefarious plot (which I felt could have had higher stakes) is that the core of this story is a lackluster marriage. It may take place in a “timeshare prison,” but the real issue is that both characters feel sexually frustrated after years and years of neglecting their relationship.
When my book club discussed The Heart Goes Last last week, we all agreed that we enjoyed putting ourselves in this couple’s shoes and determining what actions we would take if caught in the same predicament. Some felt that the plot was too slowly paced in the beginning, and others were disappointed by the ending, but overall we would definitely recommend the book. I’m proud that I’ve successfully persuaded more people to appreciate Atwood’s writing as much as I do!