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Welcome to a future where you are guaranteed a good job, a nice house and security. But there’s a catch: You’ll spend every other month in prison. This is the world the characters inhabit in Margaret Atwood’s latest novel. It reflects some of the author’s own concerns and curiosities about our society today, like the prison system, economic inequality, and a blurring line between humans and technology. Off the page, Atwood has argued passionately on social and political issues throughout her career. And at age 75 she shows no sign of stopping. We talk to Margaret Atwood about her latest book, politics, censorship — and even sex robots.
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.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Mention the name Margaret Atwood and the word dystopian usually follows. The author's new novel title "The Heart Goes Last," imagines a future where people spend one month in prison and one month out. She takes readers on a wild sexual adventure through this world that some say feels very different from Atwood's past work and has others calling her totally fearless.
MS. DIANE REHMMargaret Atwood joins me in the studio. And, as always, you are welcome to be part of the conversation. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send you email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or you can send us a tweet. Margaret Atwood, how good to see you again.
MS. MARGARET ATWOODLovely to see you.
REHMAnd wonderful to have you here in the studio, but I have to say this novel scares me. You see it as what, something that could happen?
ATWOODWell, let's just say that in this novel, we have a prison for profit scheme. It's a little nicer than the prison for profit schemes we already have, but with any prison for profit scheme, the problem is keeping it full and also how do you make the profit?
REHMSo you've got a young couple, Charmaine and Stan who had previously made a pretty good wage, a pretty good living, but then during the financial crisis, all is lost. They end up living in their car and then one day, Charmaine sees an ad that tells her about another possibility. Talk about what that could mean for them.
ATWOODOkay. So they're not only living in their car, they're living in their car and it's scary because there's no social security net, there's no police in their area so it's gangs and thugs who would like their car, too. So here they see on the ad, they get a virtual tour of the house that they will live in and it has a bed that they can sleep on and it has floral sheets and it has big, white, fluffy Leona Helmsley towels, very appealing.
ATWOODAnd, you know, three meals a day and your own lawn and full employment for everyone and it's safe in there. So of course it's appealing.
REHMBut the only catch is...
ATWOODThe only catch is they get in and they find out that you're spending one month in that nice house and the other month in the prison. But it's quite a nice prison because, of course, you switch over every month and those who are in the prison go and live in the house and you living in the house go and live in the prison.
REHMBut you don't see each other. The two couples...
ATWOODYou're never supposed to meet.
REHM...do not come in contact.
ATWOODNo. You're never supposed to meet because, of course, we don't want arguments about who didn't fold those nice, white, fluffy towels properly. So, unfortunately or fortunately for the plot, Charmaine and Stan do meet the alternate couple and, of course, forbidden fruit tastes sweeter and off they go, either in fantasy or in reality with their alternate partners.
REHMMargaret Atwood, where did this idea come from?
ATWOODWell, long, long ago, I suppose it came from thinking about prisons when I was writing my novel called "Alias Grace" and then when I was actually on a march to save a prison farm which was going to be destroyed by the federal government, which has just fallen out of office in Canada, or maybe I should say been hurled out of office, and that march did not succeed. Now, as a result of which we did try to save the Heritage cows and I'm the owner of half of a Heritage cow.
REHMHalf of a Heritage...
ATWOODRight. Which half? We won't go there, Diane. So all of this is just, you know, it was in my head, thinking about all of this.
REHMBut you also take us into the world of sex robots.
ATWOODThat world is fast approaching, Diane. The internet being a wonderful place, you can read about lots of things on it. In fact, there was just a conference in Malaysia that was going to be devoted to sex robots. The government took a dim view and cancelled it. But it's all out there and the Japanese have just invented some robot skin that can get goose bumps, a giant stride for mankind, I suppose.
ATWOODSo how will all this play out? We've seen a couple of films around this subject, you know, the one about the man who falls in love with this phone voice and various other incarnations going all the way back to "Stepford Wives." But the idea of making artificial and presumably more attractive female people goes way back to "The Iliad." It's in there in the smith called Hephaistos who was lame makes some golden girls out of gold to be his assistants, nothing but top quality.
REHMSo even going back to "The Handmaid's Tale," and even going back to the fact that Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land, how do you feel about what's happening in regard to Planned Parenthood, the idea of keeping abortion legal. Did you foresee a time when you wrote "Handmaid's Tale" that we were going to move or there was going to be a push to make abortion illegal?
ATWOODOh, well, let's put it this way. I was born in 1939, which means that my early childhood was spent during World War II and right after that, along comes George Orwell with "1994," which I must've read when I was about...
ATWOODYes. "1994," the inverse of 1948, but he was looking at what England would look like if it were a Stalinist type of thing. So I've always been pretty interested in not only dictators, but in childhoods of dictators and what dictators said before they got into power. And it's always been my view that people who say what they will do before they get into power, when they get into power, they will try to do it. So even if they soft-pedal it, you know, they say it, then they might soft-pedal it to get in, but then they'll do it.
REHMDo you worry that we are moving toward some kind of dictatorship?
ATWOODIn this country, it would be hard to institute, I think, but there are certainly people who would like to try, let's put it that way. And when I was writing "The Handmaid's Tale," I was thinking what question is it the answer to. And that question is, if the United States were to have a dictatorship, what would that dictatorship look like? So I think what people have to think about around these issues, and they're all wedge -- all of these contentious things are wedge issue because there are never any good choices involved.
ATWOODIt's a choice of something that's not good and something else that's also not good, but people then choose one side and defend it as good. You're just gonna have to decide what sort of country you want to live in and what do you think about the liberty of the individual and what do you think about compulsory childbirth, you know, what do you think about compelling people to have children that they may not want.
ATWOODSo if you're going do that, surely these states should pay for them. Don't you agree?
REHMMargaret Atwood, her new novel is titled "The Heart Goes Last." I want to ask you about Canada's recent election.
ATWOODYes. What a roller coaster that election, leading up to it, was. So I think it's the only election -- we've got more than two parties. It's the only election in which at one time or another during that period, all three of them were frontrunners alternately. So each had a chance of being just slightly ahead of the polls and then when the day came, one of them swept the table.
REHMSwept the table.
ATWOODYes. How did that happen?
REHMHow did that happen? Did you expect it to happen?
ATWOODNot quite like that. I thought it would be a minority liberal government. So in the parliamentary system, it's whoever gets the most seats who is the -- forms the government, but that can be a minority and therefore the other two can gang up or I should say the other four can gang up on them. So I didn't expect a majority and I think almost neither did anyone else.
REHMSo how radically do you think what happens in Canada will change? We've already heard that there will be some resistance to the Keystone pipeline, that there will be some resistance to the Transpacific Partnership, that there will be differences between Canada and the U.S.
ATWOODYes. Well, Mr. Trudeau, who is the new one, has already talked to Mr. Obama about the Keystone pipeline, but from the point of view of the United States, they're probably wondering why do they need it.
REHMAll right. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, you can join us. Your calls, your emails, 800-433-8850.
REHMMargaret Atwood is with me in this hour. She has a brand new novel, it's titled, "The Heart Goes Last." And there is a wonderful few paragraphs that really pick up on that title. Margaret, would you read those for us? Set it up for us.
ATWOODAll right. Here is our hero, Stan. And he is attached to a gurney, he can't move. He's in a white room and he's waiting for somebody, he doesn't know who, to come in and stick a needle into him, that it's going to do he doesn't know what. So he doesn't know whether his life is about to end or? And here we go.
ATWOOD"Stan let's his mind float free. Time is passing. Whatever will happen to him is about to happen. There's not a thing he can do about it. 'Are these my last minutes?' he asks himself. 'Surely not.' Despite his earlier moments in panic, he's now oddly calm. But not resigned, not numb, instead he's intensely, painfully alive. He can feel his own thunderous heartbeat. He can hear the blood surging through his veins. He can sense every muscle, every tendon.
ATWOODHis body is massive, like rock, like granite, though possibly a little soft around the middle. 'I should have worked out more,' he thinks. 'I should have done everything more. I should have cut loose from -- from what?' Looking back on his life, he sees himself spread out on the earth like a giant covered in tiny threads that have held him down. Tiny threads of petty cares and small concerns and fears he took seriously at the time. Debts, timetables, the need for money, the longing for comfort, the earworm of sex, repeating itself over and over like a neural feedback loop. He's been the puppet of his own constricted desires.
ATWOODHe shouldn't have let himself be caged in here and walled off from freedom. But what does freedom mean anymore? And who had caged him and walled him off? He'd done it himself. So many small choices. The reduction of himself to a serious of numbers, stored by others, controlled by others. He should have left the disintegrating cities, fled the pinched, cramped life on offer there, broken out of the electronic net, thrown away all the passwords, gone forth to range over the land, a gaunt wolf, howling at midnight.
ATWOODBut there isn't any land to range over anymore. There isn't any place without fences, roadways, networks. Or is there? And who would go with him, be with him? Supposing he can't find Conor. Supposing, unthinkable, that Conor is dead. Would Charmaine be up to such a trip? Would she even want him to smuggle her out? Would she consider it rescue? She's never liked camping, she wouldn't want to do without her clean flowered sheets. Still, he has a brief flash of longing: the two of them, hand in hand, walking into the sunrise, all betrayals forgotten, ready for a new life, somewhere, somehow. With maybe some strike-anywhere matches and -- what else would they need?
ATWOODHe tries to visualize the world outside the wall of Consilience. But he has no real picture of that world anymore. All he sees is fog."
REHMConsilience. That word. Explain that word, consilience.
ATWOODWell, that's a little nod to E. O. Wilson, I have to say. So the town is named Consilience, and where they're living and where everything fits in and where you're supposed to fit in. So consilience is a word from E. O. Wilson's biology in which the natural world has a way of arranging itself by everything in it, as it were, minding its own business and then becoming attached to or food for the other parts of that world.
REHMAnd the other parts of this world, surely, are overrun by technology of every kind.
ATWOODWell, they have a very good surveillance system...
ATWOOD...as do we all at the moment.
REHMAt the moment, I think you're right.
ATWOODYeah. We do at the moment. And we also have, of course, some great advances being made in human robotics, more specifically, sex robots. And that, too, is going on in the real world, even as we speak.
REHMHow concerned are you about that? Technology, in general, sex robots, in particular.
ATWOODOkay. Sex robots, in particular, at my age, Diane, not that concerned.
REHMI understand perfectly.
ATWOODThat's not going to be my problem.
REHMYeah. I understand perfectly. But what about technology as a whole?
ATWOODTechnology, as a whole, okay, so it's human tools and it always has been human tools. One of our first big tech innovations was probably human speech. So then everything we did with fire, all of our hand tools that we made in the stone age and everything we've done since. And we must think of these as tools. Yes, they can change our landscape, but they are still just tools. It's what we do with them that is the concerning part. So technology allows us to do things, it doesn't make us do things. You could unplug yourself, for instance, from the electronic net.
REHMHere's a Facebook post from Sarah. She says, as the mother of 12-year-old twin boys, I'm happy they're reading. But there seem to be so many popular dystopian novels for them, such as "Unwind," "The Maze Runner" and "The Hunger Games." I believe Ms. Atwood's work calls us to be aware of and engaged in politics, as technology takes us into uncharted waters. But could she comment on how she talks with young people about the future?
ATWOODOkay. How do I talk with young people about the future? It's going to depend on how young. But something that appeals to everyone is the Future Library, Norway project, which you can find at futurelibrary.no. And that is a hundred-year project. So somebody born today might actually be alive when it gets wound up. And it is, a forest has been planted in Norway that will grow for 100 years. And in every one of those 100 years, a different author will be invited to submit a secret manuscript. And when the 100 years is up, all of the boxes will be opened and enough trees will be cut from the now-grown forest to make the paper to print the anthology of the future library.
ATWOODOne reason people, especially young people, like this is that it's filled with hope. So it assumes there will be people, there will be books and reading and there will be a forest that will have grown in Norway. So lots of hope. And that's one thing -- although young people are stuck into the dystopias, because they're worried about the world they're living in -- one thing they do like is some hope built in as well. Because we all like that, don't we?
REHMI was struck by the passage you read and chose it because I think, in a sense, it represents what each of us might be thinking and wondering, what did we do less of than we should have? What we did too much of than we should have. How can we come to peace with ourselves in those last moments?
ATWOODExactly. And I'm sure that's going to be on people's minds increasingly, particularly as the baby boomers, the great bulge of baby boomers moves into that age category.
REHMIndeed. And here's an email from Mark in Washington, D.C. He says, I grew up in Toronto, raised by a single mother who went on to become one of Canada's leading criminologists. Your novels were always in our home. My mother was a strong advocate for social justice, particularly for Aboriginal women. She passed away three years ago. But I think, were she alive today, she would have been delighted to see the end of the Harper regime's 10 years in power. What do you think was the impact of the decade of Harper on Canada's position as a country that supports social justice?
ATWOODAll right. So there's a reason he got dis-elected and that was that roughly 70 percent of people did not vote for him. And the conservative party, itself, will say, yes he was a strength. But he was also our biggest weakness because he polarized people a lot. And the impact on Canada's reputation, unfortunately, was negative. So we went from being considered a nice, good country to being considered really an obstructive...
REHMWhat did he do to create that feeling?
ATWOODWhat did he do? All right. He ignored and blocked a climate-change initiative. He demonized environmentalists, sometimes calling them terrorists. In the...
REHMStraight out of Rush Limbaugh.
ATWOODYeah, right. In the category of First Nations, he just turned a blind eye to the missing and murdered Aboriginal women question, which was a big hot button. And in this election, First Nations turned out and voted en masse, which they've never done before. They really wanted to see the end of that and get somebody who could actually talk to them, who would actually talk to them, or with them. So those are a couple of the highlights but there's lots more.
ATWOODAnd one of my big concerns was in the area of personal civic liberties. So we had a combination of two bills -- one was C51, the other was C24. Under C51, secret service could have planted stuff on your website. Under C24, they could then have, if you were an immigrant but had become a Canadian citizen, they could then declare you a terrorist, strip you of your citizenship and kick you out of the country. So it was really, you know, back to the Middle Ages. I mean, I don't think people quite put those two things together, but they were -- certainly the immigrant community was very against C24 and lots of people were against C51, once they figured out what it said.
REHMAnd how do you feel about Trudeau?
ATWOODOh, he has promised to fix C51. I'm sure he'll just get rid of C24.
REHMBut, you know, politicians, once they are elected, sometimes forget promises.
ATWOODOkay. So one thing that happened in this election is that a lot of citizens groups came together. And one of them was called Lead Now. It was the strategic voting one. One was called ABC, which was run by the vets. Because they had been promised all this money, which had never been paid to them. So these are, you know, people who are alive. They're not World War I or the War of 1812. Harper was fond of that -- dead soldiers so much more convenient than ones that are still alive. So these groups mobilized around this election and they're not going away.
ATWOODAnd a number of independent journalist sites -- this is one of the things the Internet has facilitated -- independent journalism sites like Canadaland and iPolitics and Huffington Post Canada, something called Press Progress, there's a number of them -- they are not going to let up. They will be right there.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You must be interested, amused, bothered, baffled by what's going on in this country in terms of our election process.
ATWOODWell, I think everybody is scratching their head a bit. But there's two parts to it. One would be the Republican part and the other would be the Democrat part. And I think the anti-Hillary people just shot themselves in the foot with that 11-hour congressional hearing. I was calling her Hillary of Arc, you know? Next step, burning her at the stake. But she got through that. And I guess the object was to make her lose her cool. But she didn't lose it. So you really have to say, this person has a lot of experience and stamina, and that showed up. So that's, tic one on that side.
ATWOODOn the other side, doesn't this always happen, isn't it always a kind of a circus before the Republicans or indeed even the Democrats actually pick their runner?
REHMWell, I cannot recall seeing 14 or 16 candidates on a debate stage ever before. I mean, I realize there was an under and then there was an over, but good grief.
ATWOODWell, it's excessive. But, you know you can't say no.
REHMWe can't say no. All right. Here is an email from Aaron. A few weeks ago, he says, I read Ms. Atwood's incredible poem, "Half-Hanged Mary," for the first time. I was astounded, however, when I learned the terrible and macabre history behind the poem. Can Ms. Atwood please enlighten the listeners as to who Half-Hanged Mary actually was.
ATWOODWell, Half-Hanged Mary was Mary Webster, an ancestor of mine according to Granny on Mondays. But on Wednesdays, she might think that was too disreputable and change her mind. She was a Webster. So Half-Hanged Mary, in 17th century New England, was accused of witchcraft, exonerated in Boston, then taken back.
ATWOODBut the townspeople disagreed with the verdict, so they strung her up. This is before the drop was invented, so her neck did not break. And they left her dangling out here all night. And when they came back to get her in the morning, she was still alive. So she then lived another 14 years and I expect they kind of steered clear of her after that. But she was up there, hanging off, you know, hanging by the neck. And so she either had a very tough neck or else she was very light. But she didn't die. So "Half-Hanged Mary" is about basically what's going through her mind while she's dangling around up there.
ATWOODPretty interesting. It's part of the Salem witchcraft history, but it was a little bit before the Salem one actually got going.
REHMWho actually cut her down?
ATWOODThe townspeople. Yeah. The same ones who had strung her up.
ATWOODWeird goings on in 17th century New England, as we always knew. But she's one of the people I dedicated "The Handmaid's Tale" to, because I figured that if you were going to have -- if you're going to write a book like that, you should have an ancestor with a tough neck.
REHMMargaret Atwood, her newest novel is titled, "The Heart Goes Last." When we come back, we'll open the phones. 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's time to open the phones for Margaret Atwood. We're talking about her brand new novel titled "The Heart Goes Last." Let's go to Allendale, Michigan. Jessica, you're on the air.
REHMHi. Go right ahead.
JESSICAI wanted to -- I wanted to let you know that you are one of my biggest influences for a lot of my own writing, and I'm a young, 26-year-old, feminist writer, and I'm trying to write my own stories about things that I see within a fictional context. And I wanted to ask you if you had any advice for the upcoming feminist generation that is coming up now.
ATWOODFor the upcoming feminist generation or for the upcoming generation of writers or both, or either one?
ATWOODOkay, so the upcoming feminist generation, I think this is third wave. So first wave was get the vote, beginning of the century. Second wave was around '68, '69, '70 and into the '70s, and that was jobs, image, health concerns, a lot of those things. And this third wave, I think what they're mostly focused on is murder and violence, you know, the extreme expression of anti-woman sentiment.
REHMGloria Steinem has put that at the top of the list of worldwide concerns.
ATWOODPresent-day concerns, yeah, and although people talked about it in the early '70s, it wasn't top of the list, whereas I think for the young generation now, it is. So what is the advice? I don't know because I can't tell other people how to write their books, but I would just say go for it. You know, charge in, write your book. See how it comes out. I think a lot of things holding people back, it's not lack of talent, it's lack of confidence and worry about what will -- what will happen.
ATWOODWhen I publish the book? Will everybody yell at you? That kind of thing. And yes, some people will yell at you.
ATWOODAnd if they don't, you've probably done it wrong.
REHMOf course, write what you see, write what you feel, write what you know. Let's go to Alex in Minneapolis, Indiana. You're on the air.
ALEXHi, good morning.
ALEXMy question is about the publishing industry, and I was wondering if Margaret could comment on how she's seen the publishing industry change throughout her career with the advent of ebooks, the rise of Amazon and so forth, and what promise there is for literature in the midst of such corporate control of her books.
ATWOODOkay, first of all, I've seen publishing change throughout my life as a writer. When I started, there were no book tours, there was no Diane Rehm. Instead there would be somebody saying who are you, and I haven't read your book, and I don't care, and you're a freak. So all of that has changed quite a bit. There were no literary festivals. So all of that infrastructure has grown up. That is a plus for writers. Some things have shrunk. Glossy magazines used to publish fiction. They don't much anymore. But other things have grown, such as the Internet.
ATWOODThere's not a barrier to publication right now because you can self-publish. The barrier is to getting yourself out there and known. How do you connect with your readers? And that has always been a concern. It's another concern now, it's maybe a bigger concern, because there are a lot more young people writing books.
ATWOODTons of them.
REHMAre you recording this book?
ATWOODAm I recording it? Oh, it is already an audio book.
REHMDid you read it?
ATWOODI did not read it.
REHMYou did not read it?
ATWOODNo, but I helped choose the voices that did read it.
REHMGood, oh, voices, not just one.
ATWOODWell, you've got to have a Stan and a Charmaine.
REHMYeah, you sure do.
ATWOODI didn't want to be Stan.
REHMYeah. Here is a tweet. Can Ms. Atwood comment on the niqab issue in the last campaign and in Quebec?
ATWOODOkay, the niqab.
ATWOODOkay, that is the covering of the face, usually except the eyes, and it wasn't -- it became a sudden election issue because there were differences of opinion as to whether one should be allowed to wear such a thing while taking one's oath as a citizen, while being admitted as a citizen of Canada. But, you know, for me, having lived through a lot of this stuff, there was a big hoo-ha when there was an issue about Sikhs wearing turbans if they were Mounties.
ATWOODYou know, so they wear turbans being Mounties. You know, the world has not come to a halt. So what? It's a diverse country. It became a -- people became panicked by it because politicians used it as a wedge issue to instill fear and hatred and panic that suddenly we are going to be overrun by hordes of face-covering Muslim women, and, you know, that's not going to happen.
ATWOODSo I was somewhat disappointed by the way people allowed themselves to be stampeded at first, but then they stampeded back, and they voted out the government that had done the stampeding.
REHMAll right, to Linda in Marysville, Washington, you're on the air.
LINDAHi, I'm fascinated with the idea of compulsory childbirth.
LINDAYeah, if the pro-lifers have their way, we would have compulsory childbirth.
ATWOODWell that's what it amounts to, but if you -- if you're going to compel people to have children, what are you going to then do with the children? Are you going to take them away from them and put them in orphanages? Are you going to pay for their care? Because these are usually people who can't afford to raise these children themselves. And you should have a look at Romania and what happened there. That was a compulsory childbirth under Ceausescu.
ATWOODHe mandated that women had to have four children, and he made them take fertility tests, and they had to come in to see if they were pregnant yet or not, and that caused a lot of defenestrations, women jumping out the window, and it also filled up Romanian orphanages. And that fallout is still with that country today.
LINDAAnd so what happens to men? What can we do to men that's comparable? Is there anything we can do that's comparable?
ATWOODWell, I don't want to do anything to men that's comparable because I don't want to -- I don't want people to have compulsory anything, you know. There is actually no comparable thing. Biology is what it is. And unless you rearrange them according to the Marge Piercy recipe in "Woman on the Edge of Time," men are not going to have babies. Yeah.
REHMMargaret, what got you started on the whole concern about dictatorship?
ATWOODWell just dictators themselves got me started, I guess, you know, living through -- living through World War II, knowing a lot of people who had been in that war and escaped from it. I knew people who had escaped from Poland. I knew people who escaped from Czechoslovakia. I knew people in the French Resistance and somebody from the Polish Resistance who said noteworthily, pray that you will never have the occasion to be a hero. So it's just very vivid, and my partner's dad was a general in World War II and went up through Poland and into Germany and liberated a couple of the camps, which was a very shocking thing. He never, ever would talk about it until late in his life.
REHMYour partner Graham and you have been together for how many years?
ATWOODAbout 40, Diane.
REHMThat's what I thought. That's what I thought.
ATWOODGetting on. Time is ticking along.
REHMCongratulations. And let's go to Novi, Michigan. Chris, you're on the air.
CHRISHello, Diane, and Ms. Atwood. Actually it's Novi, Michigan. But I have two questions for you. You mentioned robots, you know, sex robots, that sort of thing, but I was wondering if you have seen the current film out called "Ex Machina," fascinating film. And also I was wondering if you can explain, we're -- this current strain of dystopian themes in young adult fiction and particular books like the "Divergent" series, "The Hunger Games," "Maze Runner." Why -- why is this -- the fascination with the future so bleak?
ATWOODI know, yeah.
CHRISAnd also, you know, the pervading zombie thing that's going on. So it's -- the future is very bleak.
ATWOODOkay, so the zombie thing is different from the dystopia thing. Which would you like me to talk about first?
CHRISOh, I don't know, either one is -- the future doesn't look good in either case, does it?
ATWOODOkay, so the reason that kids are into this, kids and young adults are into it, is that the future doesn't -- the future does seem bleak to them. They know about climate change. They've looked at the scenarios. They know that California is having a drought. You know, they've seen those kinds of things happening. And I think the dystopias are, in a way, a rehearsal, that is how would I handle it. So you get to walk through it in your head. How -- what would I do? How would I handle it? Suppose the lights go out, you know, what's my first recourse, that kind of thing.
ATWOODAnd we did that earlier with programs like "Survivor" and, you know, imagine yourself on a desert island, all those kinds of things, and young people in particular are wondering what the plot of their life is going to be. So how am I going to get through my life? What are the obstacles that I shall face? So I think it's having to do with that.
ATWOODThe zombie thing, dressing up like a zombie or pretending you are one, that's what, no worries, what, me worry, because zombies don't have to worry. They don't have a brain.
REHMAnd that takes us to our next email. It's from Sam, who's at Texas A&M. He says, I'm writing a rhetorical analysis on Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale." It would be wonderful to get her perspective on something. Was the use of memory as the mode of storytelling in that text a conscious choice? If so, what did you intend to be its function?
ATWOODWhat a question.
REHMWhat a question.
ATWOODYeah, we've got memories.
ATWOODAt least most of us do, and our memories, we're constantly rearranging them and making them into story of my life because we're all narrators in that way. We are all novel writers in that way. So the conscious choice was to have the memories stored on -- in 1985 we didn't have DVDs or CDs or any of those things, or the cloud or the Internet or anything. So they're stored on some tapes.
ATWOODAnd are those tapes in order? Who has arranged those tapes? We learn at the end that they found these tapes, but they weren't exactly sure how they should all go together. So the memories are episodic. Memory a conscious choice, just about any character in any novel that has memories, because people have them. Is that what -- is anything like what you're trying to discover?
REHMThat -- Sam is going to have to try to figure it out. And you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And an email from Jason in Marshall, North Carolina. Was there a real-life group you based the God's Gardeners group in "The MaddAddam" series? Is it possible to have a revolutionary eco-movement without a spiritual foundation?
ATWOODAha, those are two different questions. Yes. Yeah, but there are a number of these groups around, and there's even a green Bible with the green parts in green. The introduction is by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and lots of other divines and theologians weighing in and helpful hints at the back of green things you can do, and that dates from some years ago. But more recently my real-life God's Gardeners that I met after the book was published are a group called A Rocha, A R-O-C-H-A. And they are ecological Christian group dedicated to organic everything and helping people around the world do that.
ATWOODSo yes, that's out there. There's a big split between the dominionists and the stewardship group, and the God's Gardeners would be in the stewardship group. Is it possible to have an ecological movement without a faith foundation? I would say that there's a faith foundation of some kind, but it may not be traditional. However, there are built into, for instance, the Hindu religion and the Muslim religion and the Christian religion, except it forgot about that in the 18th century, there is a strong connection with nature in those religions already.
REHMAnd to Louisville, Kentucky, Zoe or Zoe, you're on the air.
ZOEHi, thank you for taking my call.
ZOEYeah, I'm a nurse educator at a local nursing college here, and I work with an assimilation lab with mannequins not every day but often. And I was wondering why she wanted to use -- I haven't read the book, but in referring to the parts of sex with the novel, why she would use the mannequins or robots.
ATWOODWhy I put them in? Because people are making them already. So if you put in, into your search engine, sex robots or prostibots, you will find that there are busy hands hard at work right this minute trying to make such things. So...
REHMAre they terribly expensive?
ATWOODAre they terribly -- Well, Diane, I don't know. One of the weirdest things that you can get, I don't know whether you can still get it, but it was out there for a while, it was called Kissinger. And with Kissinger, it looked like sort of an egg with a mouth on it, and a person in a remote location would have a similar egg, and if you kissed your egg, and they put their lips on the lips of this other egg, they would -- they would feel the sensation of you kissing them. Isn't that weird or what?
ATWOODThese things are out there, and that is why I put them in. I'm not making them up.
REHMMargaret Atwood, and she has one of the most inventive minds I've ever known. So wonderful to talk with you again.
ATWOODLovely to talk with you.
REHMThank you. Margaret Atwood's new book, a novel titled "The Heart Goes Last." Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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