The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

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Zac's Take:

I first encountered Margaret Atwood in one of my favorite English classes in High School. I was taking honors English and everything was way way way above my head. I could hardly follow along with all the references that were made to Song of Solomon and history and race and culture. The same teacher asked me to join a small reading group for credit. We would meet once a week in her office and simply discuss whatever book was chosen. It was less a class than it was a book club, but it helped me tremendously, and I looked forward to it every single week.

It's in this reading group that we read The Handmaid's Tale. I was instantly in love. I've read a pile of her novels since then, so when Jill purchased her latest book, I was pleased. Especially since I was coming off of a novel I couldn't even finish.

Which could contribute to my disappointment with this novel. The characters were thinly drawn, uninteresting, didn't grow or change much and I wound up feeling like I didn't care about them or the plot. The plot did seem simply to serve as necessary structure for the idea she had at hand, which was a noble one, granted.

The main premise in  The Heart Goes Last* is this: The economy has collapsed and cities are in ruin. Apocalyptically so. The solution as devised by one company is to use the prison system to both create jobs and to provide housing. Residents spend one month as an inmate and the next month in a house near the prison. It's like a prison timeshare. She makes broad comments about the economy, our obsession with immortality, sex, money and privacy, but it all seemed too loosely focused for me.

To me, it seemed like she phoned it in. She is an amazingly talented writer. She can write things like this in her sleep. I just wish she wouldn't put her sleep writing on a shelf.


Jill's Take:

Hmmm...I can see Zac's point but don't really agree with him on this one. I may be a bit too biased toward Margaret Atwood to be able to be objective though, this is a possibility.  Much like Zac, my intro to Margaret (if I can be one a first name basis with her) was in middle school reading A Handmaid's Tale which terrified me and left me wanting more. Since then, I have read the lion's share of her novels. Some with such memory for the characters and things she creates that they became sort of verbal ticks for me (pigoons, anyone?). No, this book did not provide me with any sticking notions, but I did find it provocative. I enjoyed the exercise of imagining what choice we would make if we were left living in our car in a violent society where we can't even sleep at night for fear of being attacked. Would living part time in prison seem a better option? Would we fall prey to such a clearly flawed idea of living? 

It was with this curiosity that I sped through this novel. I couldn't stop reading it. I found it incredibly easy to read, descriptive and imaginative. As with all of Margaret's works, I found such vivid imagery coming to mind as I read the scenes. Did I love all of it? No. Did I find some of it a bit too much of a farce (like Veronica and her love for the teddy bear)? Yes. But I still found proof enough in the concept of what she was trying to say and the story she was telling that it kept me going and has kept me thinking about it off and on over the last few weeks. There are some images I can't get out of my mind, if not interesting animal combinations.



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