Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, along with the Carnegie Library, has an awesome series of authors who come to speak. Margaret Atwood is the second speaker my mom and I have seen this year. I have read many of Atwood’s books over the years, although I skipped her recent MaddAddam trilogy. I guess it’s going to be on HBO, though.

Margaret Atwood

Atwood talked a bit about Canadian politics in light of the recent election, before moving on to her new novel, The Heart Goes Last. Set in a time of economic collapse, it is the story of how Stan and Charmaine become inmates in the Positron prison system every other month in return for jobs and a place to live. She spoke about the inspiration behind the story. She had researched prisons and the penal system for an earlier novel and that, along with  the current trend of privatizing prisons, came together. She talked a bit about the history of prisons, from dungeons that basically served to hold people for ransom to debtors prisons (stupid idea) to penal colonies like Australia, where the bar for imprisoning women was lowered to meet a quota for incarcerating females.

The Heart Goes Last started on-line as a serial and Atwood spoke a bit about the history of writing serial fiction, of course mentioning Dickens and how he would sometimes take feedback from readers when drafting his stories. I really enjoyed how she took the past, whether it be prisons or writing, and connected it to the now.

The new book begins with an epigraph that consists of quotes from three texts: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Pygmalion and Galatea,” and “I Had Sex with Furniture.” Atwood says the epigraph is like the piece’s key signature. It set the tone and range of the book. I’m looking forward to reading it. She was an interesting speaker and took several questions from the audience. I really enjoyed the evening.

I’m linking up with Mailbox Monday, because two books found their way home with me. A signed copy of The Heart Goes Last came with the ticket and I picked up a copy of Stone Mattress while I was there – I couldn’t resist.

Margaret Atwood books

Margaret Atwood in PittsburghThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Published by Nan A. Talese on September 29th 2015
Genres: Speculative Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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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.

Margaret Atwood in PittsburghStone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood
Published by Anchor on June 23, 2015
Genres: Short Story
Pages: 289
Format: Paperback
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In this extraordinary collection, Margaret Atwood gives us nine unforgettable tales that reveal the grotesque, delightfully wicked facets of humanity. “Alphinland,” the first of three loosely linked tales, introduces us to a fantasy writer who is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. In “Lusus Naturae,” a young woman, monstrously transformed by a genetic defect, is mistaken for a vampire. And in the title story, a woman who has killed four husbands discovers an opportunity to exact vengeance on the first man who ever wronged her.