HEARTLAND, BY ANA SIMO
In Ana Simo’s debut novel Heartland, the excruciating collapse of our barely-recognizable society is dwarfed by the frenetic musings of the novel’s protagonist. So paranoid and magniloquent is the novel’s narrator that the large-scale political upheaval underscoring the story seems almost inconsequential. Instead, readers are drawn into a complicated web of spurned love and lethal revenge as the narrator wrestles with ghosts from her past: family, “friends,” former lovers. The failed writer-turned-grifter never names herself as she narrates with an irreverence that is at once hilarious and unsettling; every stroke of linguistic dexterity is matched with something gritty, even crude, resulting in a register that is as complex as the interpersonal dramas pervading the novel.
Set largely in the hyper-wealthy suburban ghost town of Elmira (and the peripheral Shangri-La, home to Elmira’s lower and working class), Heartland queers the world and the self through the eyes of someone whose definition of truth and justice is in constant flux. With language and at times uncomfortably close critical observation, the novel seems to ask: how far can we dissociate from what we know and expect? How strange can we make ourselves to ourselves? Of her own reflection, the narrator says, “The bathroom mirror showed a naked female of the human species emerging from a sulfurous cloud…This was the person known as I.” So does the entire novel distort the typical, the easy, and the comfortable. No observation is low stakes; instead, the reader must constantly ask, breathlessly, feverishly: wait, wait, what exactly am I looking at, here?