In a word-drunk romp through an alternate, pre-apocalyptic United States, Ana Simo’s fiction debut, Heartland, is the uproarious story of a thwarted writer’s elaborate revenge on the woman who stole her lover, blending elements of telenovela, pulp noir, and dystopian satire.
There’s only one solution for a nasty case of writer’s block, and that’s murder. Specifically, that of one Mercy McCabe, a cunning SoHo art dealer who was once our Latina narrator’s rival for the scrumptious Bebe. When she discovers that McCabe has squandered Bebe’s affections after stealing her away, revenge is not enough: she must admit her guilt, sentence herself, and beg for her own execution, Soviet-style.
In the all-too-terrifyingly-familiar America of Heartland, the inconceivable has become ordinary: corruption and greed at the top have led to mass starvation in the heartland; hordes of refugees have escaped from resettlement camps and attack the cities; a puritanical Caliphate has toppled Constantinople, with America in its sights. Meanwhile, escaping her New York life in disguise, our heroine lures McCabe to her home turf: a hilltop house in the Great Plains where her parents worked as domestic servants. Her nemesis, though, is slippery, and McCabe disappears, threatening to ruin a homicidal masterplan so detailed as to be akin to love.
Heartland is a hilarious, genre-defying debut that confronts taboos of race, assimilation, and sex through a high-voltage tale of love, language, and revenge.
Ana Simo is the author of a dozen plays, a short feature film, and countless articles. A New Yorker most of her life, she was born and raised in Cuba. Forced to leave the island during the political/homophobic witch-hunts of the late 1960s, she first immigrated to France, where she studied with Roland Barthes and participated in early women’s and gay/lesbian rights groups. In New York next, she co-founded Medusa’s Revenge theatre, the direct action group the Lesbian Avengers, the national cable program Dyke TV, and the groundbreaking The Gully online magazine, offering queer views on everything. Heartland is her first novel.
The debut novel by a 73-year-old Cuban-American playwright and activist.This novel is singularly difficult to classify. Is it lesbian noir? Slapstick dystopia? Midwestern gothic? To say that it's all of the above is not to exhaust the list of genres Simo straddles and, maybe, invents. The story begins in New York, where the narrator abuses drugs and lovers and lives off grant money while she's supposed to be writing the biography of a 19th-century Latina author. Then she loses the ability to write, and her precarious life falls apart completely. A chance encounter with her nemesis, a SoHo art dealer named Mercy McCabe, gives the protagonist a renewed sense of purpose: she will take revenge on the woman who stole her dream girl, Bebe. The world these characters inhabit is not quite this one. A caliphate rules from Constantinople. When the narrator and her rival set out for the Midwest, they cross a landscape ravaged by widespread famine and roving bands of cannibals. In addition to this subtly sci-fi twist, there are elements of surreal horror, as McCabe undergoes inexplicable transformations. What holds everything together is Simo's inventive and unapologetically irreverent voice, but the abandon with which she writes may prove problematic for some readers. One might argue that if anyone has earned the freedom to make liberal use of the word "dyke," it's a woman who has been active on behalf of LBGT causes since before many of her likely readers were born. Simo might have a similar claim to "fag" and "tranny." As a Latina, she might be said to be reclaiming "spic." But the sexualization of young girls—from 12-year-olds playing polo to 14-year-old Bebe—is a bit harder to take. Authors are, of course, free to use whatever language they like, and Simo is under no obligation to craft a likable protagonist or a comfortable narrative. But it's hard to imagine anything beyond a very narrow audience for this novel.Original, profane, and discomfiting.