Dystopian clichés are played as farce in this nasty tale.
Comparisons to Atwood's earlier work, an oeuvre of more than 40 volumes that includes the Man Booker Prize winner The Blind Assassin; the early feminist/dystopian classic The Handmaid's Tale; the pioneering mean-girls novel Cat's Eye; and the post-apocalyptic trilogy Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009), and Maddaddam (2013), are best avoided here. This slapped-together pastiche tells the story of Stan and Charmaine, a doltish young couple who have lost everything in some vague "financial-crash business-wrecking meltdown" and are now living in their car, hungry and on the run from rapists and other outlaws. In desperation, they eagerly sign up to live in a settlement called the Positron Project. Here, people alternate months between performing slave labor in a sex-segregated jail and living with their partners in a sterile suburban town called Consilience. The project's slogan is "CONSILIENCE = CONS+RESILIENCE. DO TIME NOW, BUY TIME FOR OUR FUTURE!"—and it's never going to make more sense than that. To an officially sanctioned soundtrack of Doris Day and Bing Crosby, Stan and Charmaine go about their appointed tasks, which include his providing poultry for incarcerated men to have sex with and her murdering people by injection. When the doll-like, almost subhuman Charmaine inexplicably throws herself into a tawdry affair with another man and Stan is reassigned to a sex-robot project ("As an on-demand sexual experience, it's said to be better than the bonk-a-chicken racket..."), the weak premises of the plot collapse, burying its characters in the rubble. Atwood is noted for satiric humor, but with the misanthropy of this book equaled by its misogyny, with women repeatedly melting "like toffee" and treating each other like "something that got stuck on their shoe" and "puppy throw-up," it's just not funny. The end of the novel, set in an "Elvisorium" full of gay Elvis impersonators in Las Vegas, will leave the few who have gotten that far completely bewildered.
As one of a small group of authors who won literary credibility for dystopian fiction, Atwood has taught her readers to expect better.