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The Heart Goes Last

Cover of The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last

A Novel
Borrow Borrow
Margaret Atwood puts the human heart to the ultimate test in an utterly brilliant new novel that is as visionary as The Handmaid's Tale and as richly imagined as The Blind Assassin.
Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes.
At first, this doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one's head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan's life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.
From the Hardcover edition.
Margaret Atwood puts the human heart to the ultimate test in an utterly brilliant new novel that is as visionary as The Handmaid's Tale and as richly imagined as The Blind Assassin.
Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes.
At first, this doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one's head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan's life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • From the cover CRAMPED

    Sleeping in the car is cramped. Being a third-hand Honda, it's no palace to begin with. If it was a van they'd have more room, but fat chance of affording one of those, even back when they thought they had money. Stan says they're lucky to have any kind of a car at all, which is true, but their luckiness doesn't make the car any bigger.

    Charmaine feels that Stan ought to sleep in the back because he needs more space—it would only be fair, he's larger—but he has to be in the front in order to drive them away fast in an emergency. He doesn't trust Charmaine's ability to function under those circumstances: he says she'd be too busy screaming to drive. So Charmaine can have the more spacious back, though even so she has to curl up like a snail because she can't exactly stretch out.

    They keep the windows mostly closed because of the mosquitoes and the gangs and the solitary vandals. The solitaries don't usually have guns or knives—if they have those kinds of weapons you have to get out of there triple fast—but they're more likely to be bat-shit crazy, and a crazy person with a piece of metal or a rock or even a high-heeled shoe can do a lot of damage. They'll think you're a demon or the undead or a vampire whore, and no kind of reasonable thing you might do to calm them down will cancel out that opinion. The best thing with crazy people, Grandma Win used to say—the only thing, really—is to be somewhere else.

    With the windows shut except for a crack at the top, the air gets dead and supersaturated with their own smells. There aren't many places where they can grab a shower or wash their clothes, and that makes Stan irritable. It makes Charmaine irritable too, but she tries her best to stamp on that feeling and look on the bright side, because what's the use of complaining?

    What's the use of anything? she often thinks. But what's the use of even thinking What's the use? So instead she says, "Honey, let's just cheer up!"

    "Why?" Stan might say. "Give me one good fucking reason to cheer the fuck up." Or he might say, "Honey, just shut it!" mimicking her light, positive tone, which is mean of him. He can lean to the mean when he's irritated, but he's a good man underneath. Most people are good underneath if they have a chance to show their goodness: Charmaine is determined to keep on believing that. A shower is a help for the showing of the goodness in a person, because, as Grandma Win was in the habit of saying, Cleanliness is next to godliness and godliness means goodliness.

    That was among the other things she might say, such as Your mother didn't kill herself, that was just talk. Your daddy did the best he could but he had a lot to put up with and it got too much. You should try hard to forget those other things, because a man's not accountable when he's had too much to drink. And then she would say, Let's make popcorn!

    And they would make the popcorn, and Grandma Win would say, Don't look out the window, sugar pie, you don't want to see what they're doing out there. It isn't nice. They yell because they want to. It's self-expression. Sit here by me. It all worked out for the best, because look, here you are and we're happy and safe now!

    That didn't last, though. The happiness. The safeness. The now.



    WHERE?

    Stan twists in the front seat, trying to get comfortable. Not much fucking chance of that. So what can he do? Where can they turn? There's no safe place, there are no instructions. It's like he's being blown by a vicious but mindless wind, aimlessly round and round in circles. No way out.

    He feels so lonely, and sometimes having Charmaine with him...
About the Author-
  • MARGARET ATWOOD, whose work has been published in thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid's Tale, her novels include Cat's Eye, short-listed for the 1989 Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; Oryx and Crake, short-listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize; The Year of the Flood; and her most recent, MaddAddam.She is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Innovator's Award, and lives in Toronto with the writer Graeme Gibson.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine The narrators' energetic performances are perfect for this outlandish tale. Cassandra Campbell and Mark Deakins portray Charmaine and Stan, a married couple who have fallen on hard times who join a social experiment called the Positron Project. They're given a home and full-time jobs, but in exchange they must spend half the year in prison. Campbell's character voices are playful, and she gives Charmaine a high-pitched coquettishness. Deakins has broad tones and a booming voice; his characters often sound buffoonish, which is fitting because they are. His Elvis imitation is spot-on, though. Listening to this audiobook is like hearing two people tell you about the terrible things they've done, and their bad choices just continue to snowball. G.D. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 29, 2015
    In the dystopian landscape of the unflappable Atwood’s (Stone Mattress) latest novel, there are “not enough jobs, and too many people,” which drives married couple Stan and Charmaine to become interested in the Positron Project, a community that purports to have achieved
    harmony. There is a catch, as Positron leader Ed explains: citizens are required to share their home with other couples, alternating each month between time in prison and time at home. It’s an odd arrangement, but one that temporarily satisfies Charmaine and Stan—until they each fall in love with the alternates they’re supposed to never see; their infatuations put the entire Positron arrangement into question. Atwood is fond of intricate plot work, and the novel takes a long time to set up the action, but once it hits the last third, it gains an unstoppable momentum. The novel is full of sly moments of peripeteia and lots of sex, which play alongside larger ideas about the hidden monsters lurking in facile totalitarianism, and, as implied by the title, the ability of the heart to keep fighting despite long odds.

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The Heart Goes Last
The Heart Goes Last
A Novel
Margaret Atwood
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