Ana Simo's debut novel Heartland is at once manic, brash and unsettling ... It straddles the line between pulp noir and slapstick; it carries the can't-look-away sensibility of a telenovela ...takes readers on an erratic — and sometimes erotic — journey through the mind of a jealous lover. What keeps you engaged throughout is Simo's darkly funny and original voice ... Simo boldly tackles issues of race, sexuality, and immigration. It's an engrossing tale, to be sure — one with traces of surreal horror. Simo's gift lies not only in keeping the reader invested in her narrator's detailed observances and wild tangents, but in her own total fearlessness as a writer ... It's clear that Simo didn't necessarily set out to create a likable character, but a complicated one whose brashness reminds us how our past can ultimately shape who we are and how we relate to the world around us ...an imperfect, yet pleasing cocktail that goes down unexpectedly smooth.
Categorized as 'literary dystopia' and 'lesbian pulp noir' by Restless Books, Heartland exists in a liberating matrix of its own creation: one where a book can be politically gifted without having to save the world, and Machiavellian without having to apologize for it ... With political tension always visible in the rear-view mirror, our tough-as-nails narrator steers us into the Great Hunger’s aftermath, gradually catching up to her past with minimal sentimentality ... Heartland is an ideal indulgence for the thick-skinned reader who has reached their fill of Rita Mae Brown’s reliable mystery formula or Thomas Harris’ cannibal page-turners. With petite, intense chapters that know when the reader needs to take a break, this is a book for those who desire a protagonist who will rough them up a bit.
A speculative fiction reader can be forgiven for mistaking Ana Simo’s madcap mélange of a novel, Heartland, for genre. It sits somewhere at the intersection of Naked Lunch, absurdist experimental theater, telenovelas and magical realism. The publisher bills it as dystopian satire and lesbian pulp noir — all of which is to say that this story is unclassifiable. That isn’t a problem; the fact that it’s a chaotic mess is ... The setting is dystopian, and irrelevant. It’s an alternative modern-day America in which millions have starved in the 'Great Hunger'... The protagonist is hilariously absurd and profane, but after the fifth racial slur or transphobic remark or fat joke, it all starts to feel like performative edginess meant to shock the novel’s presumed white Middle American audience ... Her disjointed thought processes make it difficult to tell what’s actually happening versus what is absurdism — a difficulty sometimes muddled further by Simo’s stream-of-consciousness style. It’s a quick read, but not an easy or pleasant one.
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 ... 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 ... 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.
Eschewing labels and defying expectations, Simo slyly confronts race, sexuality, multigenerational duty, immigrant dislocation, and even dirty politics while spinning a bizarrely spectacular, outlandishly disorienting (not-)love-story of lost, searching souls.