Excerpt from The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Heart Goes Last

A Novel

by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood X
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2016, 320 pages

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CRAMPED

Sleeping in the car is cramped. Being a third-hand Honda, it's no palace to begin with. If it was a van they'd have more room, but fat chance of affording one of those, even back when they thought they had money. Stan says they're lucky to have any kind of a car at all, which is true, but their luckiness doesn't make the car any bigger.

Charmaine feels that Stan ought to sleep in the back because he needs more space – it would only be fair, he's larger – but he has to be in the front in order to drive them away fast in an emergency. He doesn't trust Charmaine's ability to function under those circumstances: he says she'd be too busy screaming to drive. So Charmaine can have the more spacious back, though even so she has to curl up like a snail because she can't exactly stretch out.

They keep the windows mostly closed because of the mosquitoes and the gangs and the solitary vandals. The solitaries don't usually have guns or knives – if they have those kinds of weapons you have to get out of there triple fast – but they're more likely to be bat-shit crazy, and a crazy person with a piece of metal or a rock or even a high-heeled shoe can do a lot of damage. They'll think you're a demon or the undead or a vampire whore, and no kind of reasonable thing you might do to calm them down will cancel out that opinion. The best thing with crazy people, Grandma Win used to say – the only thing, really – is to be somewhere else.

With the windows shut except for a crack at the top, the air gets dead and supersaturated with their own smells. There aren't many places where they can grab a shower or wash their clothes, and that makes Stan irritable. It makes Charmaine irritable too, but she tries her best to stamp on that feeling and look on the bright side, because what's the use of complaining?

What's the use of anything? she often thinks. But what's the use of even thinking What's the use? So instead she says, "Honey, let's just cheer up!"

"Why?" Stan might say. "Give me one good fucking reason to cheer the fuck up." Or he might say, "Honey, just shut it!" mimicking her light, positive tone, which is mean of him. He can lean to the mean when he's irritated, but he's a good man underneath. Most people are good underneath if they have a chance to show their goodness: Charmaine is determined to keep on believing that. A shower is a help for the showing of the goodness in a person, because, as Grandma Win was in the habit of saying, Cleanliness is next to godliness and godliness means goodliness.

That was among the other things she might say, such as Your mother didn't kill herself, that was just talk. Your daddy did the best he could but he had a lot to put up with and it got too much. You should try hard to forget those other things, because a man's not accountable when he's had too much to drink. And then she would say, Let's make popcorn!

And they would make the popcorn, and Grandma Win would say, Don't look out the window, sugar pie, you don't want to see what they're doing out there. It isn't nice. They yell because they want to. It's self-expression. Sit here by me. It all worked out for the best, because look, here you are and we're happy and safe now!

That didn't last, though. The happiness. The safeness. The now.

WHERE?

Stan twists in the front seat, trying to get comfortable. Not much fucking chance of that. So what can he do? Where can they turn? There's no safe place, there are no instructions. It's like he's being blown by a vicious but mindless wind, aimlessly round and round in circles. No way out.

Excerpted from The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood Copyright © 2015 by Margaret Atwood.
Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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