So, The Heart Goes Last, right? Brand new Margaret Atwood! But–for a book supposedly about an economic collapse so profound people are signing up to live part-time in a prison, you’d think the main thrust of the book would be about, I dunno, economics, right?
This book is entirely about sex.
It’s about sexual kinks and sexual slavery. And, unlike, say, Handmaid’s Tale, it doesn’t really seem to have a point to it–a moral, a theme. Except maybe that we, as human beings, can talk ourselves into being sexual slaves pretty darn easily.
To that end, this book kind of grossed me out.
I mean, I like sex. I like kinky sex. But there was something very mean about the sex in this book. And, by “mean” I don’t necessarily mean cruel, though that was there. There was something about it all that was very base, very awful in a distressingly average sort of way–like these were the kind of kinky tricks boringly mundane people play with one another.
Is that fair? That’s probably not fair. Let me try to explain myself better.
The main characters, Stan and Charmaine, are astoundingly average people. Stan is temperamental, vaguely abusive to Charmaine, and led around by his dick a lot. What he seems to really want out of life is a devoted wife, good beer, and nicely trimmed hedges in a bland suburban home. Charmaine is a stereotypical blond, not very bright, but sort of the opposite of the cliche of the prostitute with the heart of gold: she’s the simple-minded “good girl,” but with a secret super slutty side. She follows Stan like a puppy, except when she’s cheating on him. Stan is devoted to her, except when any other woman is in the room.
The science fictional stuff I was interested in—how the prison worked, how the rest of society was dealing with this economic collapse, and how the prison system was actually going to bring about a better economy—was completely skipped over in favor of more Stan and Charmaine drama. There are torrid affairs. There is sexual blackmail. There are sex robots.
And there are no queers. Oh, excuse me, yes, there is a troupe of gay actors (wow, way to break the stereotype!), but how do we know they’re gay? They make sexual advance-y jokes about peeking in on Stan. And lesbians? Yeah, no, they don’t even exist in prison as far as I can tell.
I don’t understand this book. I don’t understand what we were meant to get out of it other than a huge steaming bag of ‘eeeewwwwww.’