Reviews > Published on September 18th, 2015

Bookshots: 'The Heart Goes Last' by Margaret Atwood

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Heart Goes Last

Who wrote it: 

[Atwood's] imagination puts her wet-behind-the-ears contemporaries to shame.

Margaret Atwood, living legend, author of over 40 books, including the dystopian classic The Handmaid's Tale, Booker Prize winning The Blind Assassin, and the speculative Maddaddam trilogy

Plot in a Box: 

The world is going to shit. There are no jobs. People are living out of their cars. Thieves and rapists prowl the streets. But The Positron Project offers a solution: gainful employment and a safe place to live. All you have to do is spend six months out of the year incarcerated. For Stan and Charmaine, this is better than the alternative. At first...

Invent a new title for this book:

It used to be called Positron, back when it was an eBook serial, but I'd personally like to suggest renaming it:

I Believe Sex Robots Are The Future

*Me, singing:

Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside...


Read this if you like:

Atwood's speculative work, the 1992 Nicolas Cage flick Honeymoon in Vegas, sex robots and what they represent for our nation's future. 

*Holds back burst of song

Meet the book's lead(s):

Stan and Charmaine, a married couple with married couple problems: financial woes, familial infighting, and intimacy issues (i.e.: having nowhere to have sex but the car they live in, in full view of roving gangs of thieves and rapists). You now, the usual. 

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

I think Maggie Gyllenhaal would be a good fit for sexual time-bomb Charmaine, and Bruce Campbell would bring the requisite amount of buffoonery to Stan. 

Setting: Would you want to live there?

My car? No. (Saturns are not know for their roominess.)

Post-financial collapse rape dystopia? Not really my scene. 

Positron? Even before things get weird, the place seems kind of dull. 

Prison? I'm too pretty for prison, even a socialized utopian experimental one. 

What was your favorite sentence?

"You wouldn't believe it," the woman said to him as she handed him a paper cup of fake juice after his second blood drain, "but some people have asked us if we want to buy their babies' blood, can you imagine?"

"No shit," says Stan. "Why? Babies don't have that much blood."

The Verdict:

The Heart Goes Last is being billed as a novel "as visionary as The Handmaid's Tale and as richly imagined as The Blind Assassin," which, now that I've read the thing, feels a little misleading. Don't get me wrong—I'm not saying it's bad—it just doesn't have the weight of either of those novels, two of the author's best. The publisher is trying to sell us on familiarity here, but Heart is a horse of a different color. What it lacks in literary heft, it more than makes up for with youthful exuberance. And considering Atwood's age, that's no small feat. Her imagination puts her wet-behind-the-ears contemporaries to shame. 

I think this is partially due to the nature of the book's initial release. It started as an experiment, a serialized eBook published by now-defunct e-single startup, Byliner. (In fact, I don't think the fifth and final installment was every released.) I imagine the format gave Atwood license to experiment, as there probably wasn't the usual pressure that comes with writing a novel for a big publisher. She was free to experiment, try something different. Fly by the seat of her pants, as it were.

And Atwood is definitely flying, here. This is a blackly humorous book, and at times it borders on the ridiculous. The final act is an unabashed mix of Elvis impersonators, the Blue Man Group (or their nearest, non-trademark infringing facsimile), and sex robots (don't make me sing it!). This lightheartedness belies the bleak subject matter, which is rife with Atwood's usual social commentary, much of it focusing on gender politics and class warfare. This is not new territory for Atwood, but the way she approaches it is.

Which brings me back to my expectations for the novel. The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian drama. The Heart Goes Last is a comedy. And a lot of times comedies aren't given the same respect as their highfalutin counterparts, even if they are exploring similar territory. So this book probably won't garner the accolades a Handmaid or an Assassin would. Whether it should or not is up to you.

So kick back, relax, and have some fun with it, because Atwood surely did. I mean, what good is the complete collapse of society if you can't enjoy it?

About the author

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor. He is the author of The Paradox Twins (CLASH Books), the story collection Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape, and the parody Kanye West—Reanimator. His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Broken River Books, and more. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jaceycockrobin. More info at and

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