I have already said I was disappointed by the book, although it was not a bad read and I had a few giggles at the more ludicrous scenes. So what did I not like? The social setting was lacking some of the complexity of some other Atwood novels, the characters were for the most part quite unidimensional, and the writing was less crafted as I would have expected. I was asking myself if I would have the same reaction to the book if I had not seen the author’s name. Honestly, I think I would have found it a little simplistic.
The book starts with Stan and Charmaine living in their car because they are down on their luck, in a world where many have lost jobs and homes, and the world has become a much more dangerously place to live. It is a little like the cutthroat environment in Station Eleven, where even the sweetest person can have three tattoos of daggers on their arm, indicating they have killed three times. Or else, we are back in the pleblands of Oryx and Crake.
As they are both wondering how long they can last in that environment, Stan having no job and Charmaine waitressing in her dirty clothes for very little money. They are then offered an opportunity to move into a closed community where they can have a house, a job, an income, security. The downside? They can never leave (Hotel California, anyone?) and they have to enter the jail facility for a month on alternating months. So they have a job on the outside on alternating month, and then, they have another job while they are in jail.
The first question that comes to mind is why the alternating assignments? Wouldn’t it just work if people lived in their homes full time instead of having alternating occupants move in and out of jail on switchover days? What I have concluded is that some of the jobs that people are assigned to do while in jail are somewhat morally objectionable and one could hardly rely on “free” individual to choose to do them. Hence the contrivance of jail time to induce people to do this work.
As the whole business model of the closed community comes under scrutiny, some people from inside devise a scheme to smuggle out information to expose the questionable practices of the organization and the corruption of its leaders. This involves smuggling Stan out while passing as an Elvis look-alike sexbot and Charmaine flying out to a meeting with her boss who is the CEO of the corporation and who expects her to become his sex slave.
The attempt to expose the crooked business seems to work and Charmaine and Stan are reunited in the end. Whether it will be happily ever after depends on how each of them chooses to perceive their past experience and their current choices… And there is certainly more than one way to look at things.
Many other reviewers have found this book disappointing. I cannot recommend it, especially not to someone who is not already an Atwood fan.
Atwood, Margaret. The Heart Goes Last. McClelland & Steward, 2015.