Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Review: Margaret Atwood's "MaddAddam"

Ever since I stumbled across an old paperback of Cat’s Eye, I've loved reading Margaret Atwood. Everything that I've read has been well constructed, thought-provoking, and highly entertaining. So I'm a bit surprised to have to report that MaddAddam - the final entry in her Oryx and Crake dystopia - is not the slam dunk I expected it to be.

Don't get me wrong: Parts have the propulsive narrative and interesting ideas that made the previous two books in this trilogy – Oryx and Crake (the best!) and The Year of the Flood - so compelling. But I’d be lying if I didn't say that I thought the characterization of the female characters – especially Toby, such a strong woman in TYotF – to be weak and inconsistent compared to their previous lives. Hell, Toby spends a good part of this book pining for or wallowing in jealousy for a man! In addition, parts of this book are - sadly - boring. This may be to the fact that she's revisiting scenes we've seen before in previous books, but also it's due to her framing devices, in which events are depicted at a distance. This is especially problematic with the climax of the novel, which is told as an afterthought and thus so removed from real-time action that it feels like a dream, and makes its repercussions (which were also blatantly foreshadowed beforehand) seem unreal.

This doesn't mean that the book isn't worth your time! On the contrary, any time spent in Atwood’s O&C world is worth it. It's a place where humanity has come to a horrible end through the efforts of the titular biologists who both design an ideal human being (the “Crakers”) and also unleash the apocalyptic virus via a designer vitality drug. There are so many fascinating and scarily prescient ideas here that exploring them is half the fun. MaddAddam in particular really gets rolling when she starts exploring Zeb’s story, the fascinating tale of this preacher's son who ends up intertwined in the lives of all of the main characters in what lead to the end of humanity.

Overall, though, what I found most interesting about MaddAddam was it's strange combination of hope and rebirth to what had been a relentlessly grim series. (The previous books read like The Road as written by Kurt Vonnegut.) The main arc of this third book is humanity’s efforts to rebuild and reestablish itself, perhaps most importantly with how to define its relationship with the Crakers and the other GMO beings (especially the pigoons: a pig with implanted human stem cells who escaped from their organ-harvesting fate and how are one of the most intelligent post-apocalyptic species).  And while I read the end of the book to be a delightfully snarky and ambivalent take on where all this might end up, overall MaddAddam is an interesting (if uneven) take on what happens the day after the world ends.

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