No stranger to the future, Margaret Atwood has outlined different possibilities, from The Handmaid’s Tale to her recent Maddaddam trilogy. There’s hope for the world she envisions in The Heart Goes Last (Nan A. Talese, $26.95), which addresses its rampant unemployment and homelessness, if not the abusive surveillance, by inviting people to move to Consilience, a high-security gated community where residents, for promising never to leave, are guaranteed a home and a job for life. Two jobs, in fact: one in town and one in the Positron Project, aka prison, where they spend every other month. This allows two families to share each living space, gets work done that benefits the group, and weeds out undesirables. The Procedure (and a brisk trade in body parts) also takes care of the latter, a group defined solely by the CEO of this for-profit social experiment. As dystopian shadows creep across the relentlessly sunny community, one couple in particular is caught in more than they bargained for. Their marriage is first tested by old fashioned seduction, then by a Brain Intervention that wipes out one love object and imprints another, and finally by the wife’s willingness to perform The Procedure on her husband. Atwood’s novel is an unsettling yet often funny satire, mixed with a bawdy romp and traces of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
There is another world separated from ours by a veil called Peristan or Fairyland, inhabited by nonhuman beings made of fireless smoke and smokeless fire known as jinn, who, from time to time, cross over to our world. At least, that’s what Salman Rushdie tells us in his new novel Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (Random House, $28). In the year 1195 Dunia the jinnia from Fairyland met Ibn Rushd, the philosopher in exile, fell in love, and had myriad half- human, half- jinn children. Some eight hundred years later, a great storm descends on our world and, as the slits between the worlds crack open, a strangeness begins—in the collision of the two worlds, a battle between light and dark starts. Dunia returns, enlisting her descendants to fight the dark jinn. With curses that date back centuries, dead philosophers who talk beyond the grave, a man who walks on air, a baby that identifies corruption with her mere presence, and that everlasting fight between good and evil, Rushdie masterfully combines magic realism, fantasy, science fiction, and mythology—all the while tackling immediate questions of faith and reason, philosophy and religion, love and humanity.
Written with a ferocious energy that’s equal to details both gritty (a lot of sand) and tender (love enduring no matter what), Claire Vaye Watkins’s first novel starts as history hits bottom. California is out of water. Its residents have evacuated—or should have. Nature is a hollow shell of itself and even the dogs are “straw colored.” The shimmering promise of Gold Fame Citrus (Riverhead, $27.95) that lured so many to the West has turned out to be a mirage. Late to join the exodus, Luz and Ray, a former child model and an army deserter, are surviving on “ration cola” and anything else they can find, while passing their days playing dress-up in a movie star’s abandoned mansion. Then they find a child, and as “be careful” enters their vocabulary, they head out to greener Seattle. But the challenges are immense, ranging from no gas for the car to deadly heat to government detention camps, conspiracy theorists, and sudden burial by the walking dune of “the desert sea.” To chart this odyssey, Watkins revises both the classic road trip as well as the usual immigrant story—Luz and Ray are American citizens but can’t cross state lines without papers, which Ray’s past makes impossible to get. As the novel follows this lost-and-found family into the desert, Watkins unleashes a virtuoso sequence of linear narratives, official documents, a cult leader’s bestiary, a Greek chorus of voices, and some of the most stunning sentences in any genre.