If you are looking for a novel that makes you feel good about life, the world, and yourself, DO NOT read Margaret Atwood’s latest. She opens with Stan and Charmaine, a married couple reduced to living in their beater car after an economic collapse has taken away their home and hopes of a happy family. I finished that first section early in the day and it was so bleak I wanted to reach for the vodka.
If you are looking for a strong, focused female protagonist who faces life as a woman with courage and grit, pick another book. Charmaine has clearly not had a promising early life. She grew up with some form of abuse, was rescued by a grandma who spouted platitudes, and married a man who is grumpy, has anger issues and wants way more out of sex than she wants to give. Though doing her best to keep him upbeat, she wreaks disaster on their heads.
The Positron Project offers a home, jobs, and safety from the roving bands of desperados who try to break into their car, steal their stuff, etc. Charmaine sees an ad for it on TV and convinces Stan to try it out. It turns out to be a brave new world complete with mind control and grasping leaders looking for big bucks. The town of Consilience is attached to the Positron prison system. The bait is that residents will be contributing to the rehabilitation of prisoners, thus helping to build a better society. The switch is they only get to live in their houses on alternate months. Between times they are inmates at the prison, while “alternates” live in the houses.
I tried explaining this to my husband and he couldn’t get it. I didn’t quite get it either but somehow it works with the plot. Charmaine’s job is administering the final solution to actual prisoners who can’t be reformed. Stan’s is running the section that raises free-range chickens. But Charmaine falls into a steamy relationship with the husband of the alternates in their house, discovering a kinky side she never knew she had. All goes down hill from there.
Even now as I write, it sounds almost dumb but you keep reading until you realize you have been a victim of the author’s bait and switch. If you are expecting the snappy and snarky humor we have grown used to on internet media, you won’t find that either, but you will find an amalgam of brilliant satirical takes on modern life in America with hints of Philip K Dick and nods to Franz Kafka. The suspense builds, the antics grow ever more frantic, and if you can imagine a happy ending for Stan and Charmaine in Las Vegas…well now, you can’t really, can you?