Activist and Playwright Ana Simo Defies Genre in Her Debut Novel Heartland

HEARTLAND Book Review.jpg

Written by Sandra Proudman

In her debut, 73-year-old activist and playwright, Ana Simo, has crafted a novel that defies genre and holds back no punches. Heartland takes place in a pre-apocalyptic United States and blends elements of a telenovela, pulp noir, and dystopian satire. What Simo has created is at once distinct and a fascinatingly disturbing voice for her unnamed Latinx narrator.

The catalyst of the story is simple: When the narrator finds herself unable to complete a writing job due to intense writer’s block, she finds that killing Mercy McCabe, the woman who stole an old flame’s affection is clearly the only solution. The protagonist quickly sets her unfinished work aside to set a plan in motion—she’ll take McCabe to the town she grew up in, Elmira, and murder her in the house her parent’s once worked.

Once there, though, McCabe goes through a transformation that at once leaves the narrator captivated. Love and hate, lust and disgust quickly become distorted, and an odd blending of both in the mind of the narrator leaves you unable to guess which way things will fall in the end.

Although the book has been difficult to categorize into a genre, it often channels reading V for Vendetta. You get the same feeling of moral abandon that often times feels justifiable if only because the narrator believes she is doing what must be done in her own morally gray area kind of way. Readers are not meant to like the narrator. That much is obvious. But you are able to understand her odd reasoning in the pre-dystopian world Simo has crafted.

Not everything revolves around our narrator. The horror our narrator is planning to do is only matched by those occurring in the world around her. Our narrator lives in a world rampant with starvation, refugees, and a Caliphate intent on cleansing the world of diversity, which is quickly closing in.

Heartland hypnotizes as Ana Simo carries the unapologetic voice of the narrator throughout the novel without fault; the novel is definitely not for the faint of heart as it takes disturbing twists, dabbles in sexual taboo. Simply put, when your story centers around a murder revenge plot in an already disturbing narrative world, there is no happy ending. You’re only there looking for a wild ride.

Trigger Warnings: Sexual abuse and violence

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.