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‘The Heart Goes Last’ review:Margarent Atwood stinker

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Sunday, September 20, 2015, 2:00 AM

Author Margaret AtwoodJean Malek

IN 1985, Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” was declared a classic in dystopian literature, a chilling, seemingly prescient book.

In 2015, Atwood’s “The Heart Goes Last” can be declared an attempt at a farcical dystopian novel. When farce fails, it turns nasty.

“The Heart Goes Last” is a nasty book.

Stan and Charmaine are living in their car and not sleeping much since at any moment they may need to speed away from the many robbers and rapists trolling for slow-moving victims.

A financial crisis, one that has much in common with the 2008 meltdown, has wiped out trillions of dollars, and with it, the middle class. The rich are living off shore on floating tax-free platforms, but a young couple starting out, like Stan and Charmaine, are just screwed.

They’d been so proud of their house. The two were a real can-do couple, dedicated to furthering themselves in life. Now they are beyond destitute.

But Charmaine, who is in the habit of quoting her cliché-spewing Grandma Win, suggests they still have much to be grateful for. It’s a wonder that Stan doesn’t flag down a passing marauder and hand her over.

Still, she’s the one who recognizes salvation when she catches a TV sales pitch from an entity known as the Positron Project that’s looking for model citizens to populate a model town, Consilience.

“The Heart Goes Last,” By Margaret Atwoodhandout

“The Heart Goes Last,” By Margaret Atwood

If there’s one thing Stan and Charmaine know themselves to be, it’s upright. Indeed, they’re accepted into the experimental settlement and gifted with the perfect suburban home. There is, as there must be, a catch.

They must spend alternate months in jail. The profit and power-hungry corporation behind Positron has worked out a formula in which full employment communities can be created if each is attached to a large-sized penitentiary.

The mumbo jumbo economics of it all somehow result in town residents spending six months in jail to earn the “Honey, I’m home!” perks of middle-class life the rest of the year.

It’s a sweet deal for Stan and Charmaine until she starts acting like Eve in their garden of Eden.

As Stan’s wife, Charmaine dutifully submits, but in an affair with Max, the male half of the couple they share the house with, she morphs into a lascivious minx. Max’s wife, Jocelyn, who is a high-ranking intelligence officer in the corporation, then conscripts Stan as she seeks revenge.

No surprise — seriously, there are no surprises in this too-obvious fiction — there’s a larger conspiracy being played out. So it goes. The humor is lame — a bevy of gay Elvises is meant to be a knee-slapper — and the developments contrived.

Atwood is a bleak visionary who has written some wonderful novels.

“The Heart Goes Last” is not one.

***

“Early One Morning” by Virginia Bally

A wonderfully moving novel about a young Italian, Chiara Ravello, who accepts the care of a small Jewish boy pressed into her arms by his terrified mother caught in a Nazi roundup in Rome. It is a good deed that does not go unpunished, though one day Chiara will know joy.

“Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert

The author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” who has already changed so many lives, now looks to change thinking on creativity. She theorizes that creativity is an actual energy that is looking to find a host entity. But to embrace it, one must be passionate, courageous and, above all, prepared to deal with disappointment.

“The Courtesan” by Alexandra Curry

The real-life story of Jinhua has been portrayed on stage within China both in plays and operas. It’s quite a tale, and doesn’t suffer from another dramatic treatment. Jinhua is 7 when, after her father is beheaded in 1881, she’s sold to a brothel keeper. She will not have an easy life. In passage she’ll fall in love with a Polish count before ending up back in China running a brothel in the midst of political foment.

sconnelly@nydailynews.com

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