‘The Heart Goes Last’ balances on a tightrope between humor and horror – and manages to ride its unicycle all the way across.
The sharp social satire begins with Charmaine and Stan, a married couple, victims of the recession, who have been reduced to living out of their car. They haven’t quite hit bottom: Stan hasn’t agreed to go work for his criminal brother, and Charmaine isn’t yet turning tricks at the seedy bar where she has a couple of afternoon shifts. But they’re close.
Then, they see an offer that sounds too good to be true. An experimental community is accepting applicants, promising to provide the ‘good life,’ American-style, right out of Leave it to Beaver. Only catch is, the contract is for life. Well… maybe that’s not the ONLY catch.
Of course, Charmain and Stan sign up… and what they discover is a horrific, but all-too-logical postulation based on our current economy and trend toward for-profit prisons.
Throughout the book, I found myself cringing and laughing simultaneously. There was a moment where I feared that the story was just going to become a commentary on failed relationships and infidelity… but no, I was wrong about that. More twists were in the offing, one more absurd than the next.
I have to admit, I really didn’t like Margaret Atwood’s ‘Oryx and Crake’ trilogy as much as I wanted to, and a large part of the reason for that was Atwood’s sense of humor – it just didn’t gel with me. I think the reason may have been that those were fairly ‘serious’ books (or at least, I was reading them as such), and the humor in them felt slightly misplaced. With this book, it’s wholly satirical, so the unlikely absurdities worked. Imagine ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ re-envisioned as a comedy…
Many thanks to NetGalley and Nan A. Talese books for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinion is solely my own.