When talking about her recent works, such as Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood defines her stories of a genre of “speculative fiction”, instead of science fiction, to which her works are too often categorized. ”Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen”, as she is said to insist to the UK’s Guardian*.
Atwood´s recent novel, The Heart Goes Last, continues this tradition of “specfic”. As a story of a dystopic near-future, the story starts with an alarming scenario – a married couple, Stan and Charmaine, is like any other ordinary American couple, but what puts them in a difficult position is that they have lost their jobs and their housing, and are forced to live in their car. Which, of course, is far from an easy way of living. As a hope for the better future, they become involved with a new kind of experimentation, Positron project, where they are promised a good-quality housing in an isolated area. But naturally there is a condition to that … every month spent in their new and comfortable house needs to be compensated with a month spent in a prison and with charity work for this community.
The setting for the story is not too unordinary. However, things start going more unpredictable, when Charmaine realizes that their home is inhabited by a certain couple, with whom she accidentally bumps into when they are shifting their turns at change of the month. This brings challenge to the stability of their lives. Nothing is the same anymore, especially as they realise that there is no turning back to their previous lives.
The readers of the book circle were pleased to read this piece of writing from Atwood. Atwood’s story makes references to different themes and touches upon the questionable phenomena of the future, such as organ selling, alternative substitutes for pleasures and nurture (in the forms of robots), alternative ways of living, clones, etc. Yet, it was interesting to see that the dystopic society that Atwood creates in her story is not a gloomy one on the surface, but resembles more of the atmosphere of the 1950´s America we have been offered through the popular culture. We seem to think that this time period was filled with more naivety and innocence than today, and these characteristics are portrayed in the behaviour of the protagonists.
Or maybe it is just Atwood’s way of maintaining the humorous tone in her writing. However, under the surface, we can feel the striking resemblances to more serious issues, for example to the organized system of nazi regime….
* (If you are more interested in the subject: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/14/margaret-atwood-road-to-ustopia)