Did you know that Margaret Atwood has a new book coming out his fall? I didn't until I saw that I could get the advance readers copy. I was able to read this book before it was published for absolutely free in the exchange for my honest opinion. I had just finished reading The Year of the Flood which I absolutely LOVED and I was super eager to get started.
This book is set in a dystopian future, possible in the same world that Year of the Flood, but many years earlier. In this book, the US is starting to crumble and is dealing with massive unemployment and urban decay. The protagonists Stan and Charmaine are living in their car with really no hope of a future when they get an offer to live in the community of their dreams. In Consiliance, everyone is employed, has a house and safety that America could no longer provide. There is only one catch, and that is every other month each citizen has to spend their life in prison.
This town is dominated by Positron prison which was what has kept this city afloat when everywhere else has been abandoned for the west coast. The city planners created the idea of Positron/Consiliance as a way to give everyone their slice of the American dream.
Only I didn't see what the justification was why the characters needed to be in prison. Sure it makes for an interesting story--you are being controlled by the government and you are helpless to buck the system especially when you are incarcerated for no crime at all (when inside Positron the prisoners have a good life, now that all the original inhabitants of the jail have mysteriously disappeared, but who will miss a bunch of felons anyway?). It was just a hard sell for me, to believe that having a population that spends 1/2 the time being prisoners and the other half being the guards was key to making an utopia. The story was great if I could just look past the credibility that people would try such a community model. I understood that the prison was the moneymaker of the town, but why not just hire people to work in the town and expand the prison? So much was being said about how poor and lawless the country had become, there should be no shortage of actual prisoners, why make innocent people stand-ins for criminals? As the book progresses, you find out what the company has been doing with the actual criminals and that they are reaching the end of their supply. So there is the pall that the company could start doing away with innocent people as well.
Also you find out that, as a side business, they are making "pleasure robots" to sell overseas and are perfecting a technique to erase someones memory and have them desire only you.
The story seemed a little rushed at times, just the bare bones of the plot without Atwood's usually riveting prose. I found out that this novel was originally published in serial form which could possibly explain the change in the storytelling from part to part. But the characters were really strong and interesting so in spite of how implausible the premise, I still wanted to see what happened to them. Overall, I give this 3.5 out of 5 stars, rounded to 4. Would I recommend it? Sure! Margaret Atwood is an amazing writer--only as far as her books go, I'd recommend you start with Cat's Eye or Oryx and Crake.