Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Published September 2015 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: checked out through my local library
Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a 'social experiment' offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their 'Alternates,' the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.
A few years ago, I finally read Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I think I’d find it even scarier now. I was fairly well convinced Atwood was a genius based on that book alone. This book, though, is not helping that impression.
Yes, the initial premise of the book is intriguing. The economy has gone to hell, there are millions of people without work, many are homeless and living out of their cars. Many others are roaming the streets looking to steal whatever they can or assault whomever they can. Into that situation comes the promise of a job, a place to live, and three meals a day. The catch? Every other month you’re “job” is to act as a prisoner so that other people can have jobs operating the prison or working in the adjacent town. Desperate people are willing to make that bargain. So desperate that they don’t really stop to think exactly how the company that is operating this scheme is making money to pay them or to make a profit. Ok, I’m in, even though I really, really don’t like the main characters.
Jump ahead one year. Our main characters have settled into their new lives, but there are starting to be cracks in the façade. Oh, did I mention, they cannot leave the town/prison? That constraint is starting to take its toll as well. Still along for the ride, especially considering some of the things I’m learning along the way about the prison.
As for the title, believe it or not, after all of that, Atwood has a story to tell her about love and the choices we make for love. Which, despite the title, is not at all what I was expecting as I got into the book. I suppose that's part of the reason I was disappointed. I was expecting to find myself truly frightened by the goings on in this book; but, just when I thought we were getting there, comedy ensued and a love story of sorts evolved. Honestly, and this is unusual for me to say, I wanted something darker out of this one.