The Heart Goes Last - 2015 Reading Challenge

I have been reading like crazy lately. The lovely Australian publishing house, Allen & Unwin, has sent me advanced reader copies of some kickass books, and I have hardly been able to keep up! In the last two weeks, I read Margaret Atwood's new novel The Heart Goes Lastand Charlotte Wood's latest The Natural Way of Things. I also reviewed William Boyd's Sweet Caress, and my review of that will be appearing on the Ploughshares blog soon. AND I read my friend Jackie Lea Sommers' debut Truest. Needless to say, I'm a freaking reading machine, and now I will attempt to be a freaking reviewing machine over the next few days, so please bear with me as I suddenly release a torrent of words all over this blog.

So first up, some thoughts on Atwood's The Heart Goes Last.

If anyone's still watching my 2015 Reading Challenge checklist, I chose this as my book based entirely on its coverI have seen a lot of awesome book covers this year, but this is one of my favorites. A couple in prison clothes, standing together. She's wearing strappy sandals and they're both wearing nice clothes underneath the prison suits. Half of their faces are chopped from the top of the page. She's smiling.

It's a very interesting cover. But enough about that.

Charmaine and Stan are living in their car, having both lost their jobs...much like half of the rest of the world. They live in constant fear of looters, rapists, and thieves when they park to sleep at night. Living off junk food bought with Charmaine's meager tips from waitressing in a dive bar, they have all but given up hope on ever having a normal life again.

And then the advertisement: a new community has been set up and is recruiting test subjects to volunteer for participation. They'll have a place to live, hot meals, and work. In exchange, they can never leave the confines of the community, and they must have no contact with the outside world.

It's a no-brainer for Charmaine, and they sign up after Stan relents to her begging.

The premise is simple. Each resident of Consilience will spend one month living in the homes they've been provided, going to work every day, enjoying a normal life. The next month, they will trade their citizenship in this pleasant, idyllic town for a prison cell in Positron, where they will also live for a month and perform their work duties as a prisoner. The next month, they switch back again.

A perfect community, built to live in harmony -- the answer to all the problems in the normal world.

Of course, it isn't. We all know it isn't from moment one, but I have to say I felt immense joy when Charmaine and Stan first signed up because I could feel the relief rolling off them on every page. But of course, there is no such thing as a perfect society, and it didn't take long for innocent people to start being killed off and shady business to be generated from a large group of people who are forced to work and not ask any questions.

Atwood's newest offering gives the reader plenty to think about, being at once political, philosophical, and anthropological while still often dishing out humorous dialogue from relatable characters. Stan and Charmaine have the same struggles that all couples have in their relationships, with a million unique ones based on their circumstances added into the mix as well.

The Heart Goes Last will probably make you laugh. It will most definitely turn your stomach. But as with many near-future dystopian novels, it will also cause your skin to crawl when you realize: we're really not that far off.