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The Heart Goes Last

Book Notes

Margaret Atwood is ON FIRE as of late, what with Handmaid's Tale being made into a Netflix something or other. I recall reading Handmaid's Tale when I was working in a bookstore in high school, the book having been handed to me by my boss (who was a woman, yes). When I said, "It was okay," thereby indicating that I didn't understand the true lesson to be learned, she commented that I would understand later. She was right, and I wish I could find her and thank her for trying to explain to me just how much we were / are considered second class, just because of our power to create life.


Atwood. This book.

The premise is that the world has descended into an economic depression that took out the east half of the United States far worse than the left half. Given only crappy jobs are available, and those provide barely enough to sustain our protagonists, when an opportunity to live in a walled off city where half the time you are a normal person with a good job, and the other half of the time you are a slave (prisoner, what-have-you) but both times you have food to eat so it's okay, the not-really-that-smart-woman half of the protagonist couple says yes!

Understandable to crave security in an uncertain world. Less understandable to give up complete autonomy (read: freedom) to get it.

Lest one think this is the serpent tormenting the first-sin woman, the male protagonist went along with the whole plan.

Aaaaaand it turns out to be a series of twists and turns and misinterpretations and intrigue and holy sh-t she was okay doing what, and he did what's it now?

I kept waiting for the next plot twist, for the person who was an agent to be a double agent or a triple agent, but apparently I've been reading too many mystery books lately (Narrator: she hasn't been reading mystery books, she just doesn't trust anyone these days).

A couple of times I wanted to reach through the pages and slap the female protagonist, so there's that for being invested in a book.

If you're a fan of dystopian futures or Atwood, though the latter implies the former, definitely read this book.

If you want a good book club book to read about the direction our society seems to be going, have at it, this is also a good one.

She could watch the nearest flatscreen, where a baseball replay is going on, but she isn’t much interested in sports; she doesn’t see why a bunch of men chasing each other around a field and trying to hit a ball and then hugging and patting butts and jumping up and down and yelling can get people so worked up.
Page 29

“Hello,” she says. “Isn’t it a lovely day? Look at all that sunshine! Who could be down on a day like today? Nothing bad is going to happen to you.”

This is true: from all she’s observed, the experience appears to be an ecstatic one. The bad part happens to her, because she’s the one who has to worry about whether what she’s doing is right. It’s a big responsibility, and worse because she isn’t supposed to tell anyone what she’s actually doing, not even Stan.
Page 85

She’d have to slide the needle in while Stan was asleep, so he’d be denied a beatific exit. Which would be unfair. But there’s a downside to everything. What would she do with the body? That would be a problem.
Page 92

Okay, this is an element of the female protagonist that mortified me, that not only was murder a serious thought, but that casual murder was even remotely contemplated.

How dare she show herself to be everything he was so annoyed with her for not being?
Page 104

At those moments she’d say anything. What he doesn’t know is that in a way it’s always both at once: whichever one she’s with, the other one is there with her as well, invisible, partaking, though at an unconscious level.
Page 110

The hedge doesn’t need trimming – it’s the first of January, it’s winter, despite the lack of snow – but he finds the activity calming for the same reasons nail biting is calming: it’s repetitive, it imitates meaningful activity, and it’s violent.
Page 113

But crankiness leads to bad outcomes, if you don’t have any power to back up your crankiness. People blow you off, or else they get even crankier than you.
Page 116

No, because the contract is for life. That’s what they were all told before they signed. But – this is a new thought for Charmaine, and it’s not a nice one – there were no guarantees about how long that life might last.
Page 118

She should have run out of the room the first minute she laid eyes on him. She’s been such a pushover. And now she’s all alone.
Page 122

He hadn’t recognized it when they’d been living together – he’d underestimated her shadow side, which was mistake number one, because everyone has a shadow side, even fluffpots like her.
Page 125

Muck-raking journalists trying to worm their way in, to get evidence… to get pictures and other material that they can distort for so-called exposés, in order to turn the outside world against everything the Positron Project stands for. These shady so-called reporters aim to undermine the foundations of returning prosperity and to chip away at trust, that trust without which no society can function in a stable manner.
Page 146

Erosion of institutions leads to tyranny.

How to explain the wish of such people to sabotage such an excellent venture? Except by saying they are maladjusted misfits who claim to be acting as they do in the interests of so-called press freedom, and in order to restore so-called human rights, and under the pretense that transparency is a virtue and the people need to know.
Page 147


He himself has fucked his life up, but for the other people in here – anyone he knows, at least – this place beats the hell out of what they had before.
Page 148

“What was he talking about?” says another.

“What sounds? I didn’t hear anything.”

“We don’t need to know,” says a third.

“When people talk like that, it means don’t even listen, is what they mean.”
Page 153

But she’ll refuse to think about that, because you make your own reality out of your attitude, and if she thinks about it happening, then it will.
Page 179

Though why shouldn’t a person have both? says the voice in her head. I’m making an effort here, she answers. So shut up.
Page 181

I should have worked out more, he thinks. I should have done everything more. I should have cut loose from… from what? Looking back on his life, he sees himself spread out on the earth like a giant covered in tiny threads that have held him down. Tiny threads of petty cares and small concerns, and fears he took seriously at the time. Debts, timetables, the need for money, the longing for comfort; the earworm of sex, repeating itself over and over like a neural feedback loop. He’s been the puppet of his own constricted desires.
Page 187

The mere thought of her, and of the house he once found so boring, makes him feel weepy. But he can’t rewind anything. He’s stuck in the present.
Page 207

Sex in the movies used to be so much more sexy than it became after you could actually have sex in the movies. It was languorous and melting, with sighing and surrender and half-closed eyes. Not just a lot of bouncy athletics.
Page 233

Not flavourful but not awful. Something you didn’t want that had to be accepted because of something you did want.
Page 246

Oddly, he does look something like Elvis. Is that all we are? he thinks. Unmistakable clothing, a hairstyle, a few exaggerated features, a gesture?
Page 269

Consilience takes a dim view of drunks because they aren’t productive and they develop medical problems, and why should everyone pay because one individual has no self-control?
Page 314

This is, unfortunately, a common attitude today. Addiction is very often not about self-control.

Because there’s always two sides, at least two sides. Some say those who got their organs harvested and may subsequently have been converted into chicken feed were criminals anyway, and they should have been gassed, and this was a real way for them to pay their debt to society and make reparation for the harm they’d caused, and anyway it wasn’t as wasteful as just throwing them out once dead.
Page 354

Does loving Stan really count if she can’t help it? Is it right that the happiness of her married life should be due not to any special efforts on her part but to a brain operation she didn’t even agree to have? No, it doesn’t seem right. But it feels right. That’s what she can’t get over –how right it feels.
Page 366

If you do bad things for reasons you’ve been told are good, does it make you a bad person?
Page 376

“Nothing is ever settled,” says Jocelyn. “Every day is different. Isn’t it better to do something because you’ve decided to? Rather than because you have to?”

“No, it isn’t,” says Charmaine. “Love isn’t like that. With love, you can’t stop yourself.” She wants the helplessness, she wants…

“You prefer compulsion? Gun to the head, so to speak?” says Jocelyn, smiling. “You want your decisions taken away from you so you won’t be responsible for your own actions? That can be seductive, as you know.”
Page 379

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