Imagine a world where the economy has gone to hell, your house has been foreclosed upon and you’re living in your car. Given the state of the world economy lately, this scenario is, unfortunately, not difficult to imagine. This is the world Charmaine and Stan are living in; huddled up in their car bracing for attack from criminals or any number of ill-meaning vagrants, when Charmaine sees an advertisement about Consilience, an experimental society where every member is given a stable job, a nice place to live, and most importantly, hope. Hope for a better life, hope for a future, and hope for happiness. If this all sounds too good to be true, it is.
The caveat to being a resident of Consilience is that you spend every other month in Positron prison while an alternate person or couple lives in your house, and then you switch. One month as a resident of Consilience is immediately followed by a month as a prisoner of Positron, and you never, ever, interact with your alternates. Except, Charmaine did. A lot. Charmaine accidentally runs into Stan’s alternate, “Max”, and what ensues is a “secret” sexual relationship beyond anything Charmaine could have imagined or desired. But, in Consilience, Big Brother is always watching. The Heart Goes last is a story about what happens when the human condition gets in the way of Utopia, the system breaks down, and the grass is never truly greener on the other side.
Ok, I’ll admit it. This is my first book by Margaret Atwood. I’m not proud of it, but I tried to read The Handmaid’s Tale years ago (high school?), and it was just NOT love at first word. The Heart Goes Last, however, is a horse of a different color. I absolutely loved this book and everything there was to hate about it. This book is seriously twisted in all the right ways. It’s got Elvis and Marilyn sex-bots, a gorgeous woman with a teddy-bear fetish, and so many plot twists, your head will spin straight off your neck.
The female protagonist, Charmaine, gives a whole new meaning to the term “airhead.” You could put a needle within 10 feet of her pretty blonde head, and it would pop like a balloon. And that’s why I loved her. She’s so naive that even when she’s being a skank, you can’t possibly believe that she means any ill will. And her husband, Stan, reminded me the entire time of the father in American Beauty. He spends half the book having these intricately detailed fantasies about a woman he can never have (in this case, it’s because she doesn’t exist).
All this happens while big brother, or “surveillance” as they’re called in this novel, watches their every move with cameras and digital tracking in every possible nook and cranny of Consilience. Meanwhile, as in all dystopian novels, they’re involved in some seriously twisted dealings themselves.
You know you’ve read a great book when it completely changes your perspective on your life and your surroundings. This one definitely did that for me. However, in this instance, I’m actually hoping it’s temporary. In our society, with our “smart” phones and “smart” TVs, the kind of surveillance Atwood discusses in this novel is actually completely possible. Reading this book was enough to make me look at everything, every piece of technology I touch, every camera I see, differently. Here in Maryland, the military has deployed two blimps to monitor the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. I can see them from work, home, the beach… pretty much everywhere I go. It’s going to take a long time before I can look at them and NOT feel like they’re looking back.