Monday, October 21, 2013
I'm a little embarrassed that it's been over a month since my last review. Chalk it up to my new insanely busy schedule. I love my new job but the first year of teaching anywhere is insane. I'm getting used to shorter periods and a longer commute by car rather than subway. The commute means I lose out on reading time. Plus, I used to read at the gym but now I take Zumba classes three times a week so now I don't have that time. Long story short, it takes me longer to read books and I just haven't had time to sit down and process this novel so I can properly review it.
So here goes. I first read Oryx and Crake years ago and absolutely loved it. I'm a big fan of Margaret Atwood. The Handmaiden's Tale was the first dystopian book I ever read. Oryx and Crake is Atwood's first book (I think) featuring a male protagonist. At the time, I had no idea the book would have a sequel, let alone become a trilogy. The Year of the Flood came out before I got a kindle, which I think was around 2009 or 2010 so it's been a while. I loved both of those books, rereading Oryx and Crake once I read The Year of the Flood. Those two novels take place concurrently, with characters who weave in and out of each other's stories. Both novels end at the same scene. Fortunately, MaddAddam picks up with that moment, or a bit after, and propels the story forward. There's a helpful breakdown of the plot from the other two books in the beginning of MaddAddam to remind the reader of what's happening. The basic story takes place in the future, where science has taken people to crazy new lengths (pigs that are bred to carry human body parts for organ transplants and become super intelligent) and corporations create compounds where the wealthy live. The rest of society lives out in the pleebands where crime and poverty run rampant. A genius named Crake looked at the world and decided that people were not worth saving. He designed a pill called BlyssPluss that wiped out the majority of the population. He also created new bioforms, referred to as the Crakers, who are designed to be better people. The first book focuses on Jimmy, Crake's best friend, who was unknowingly given the vaccine for the pill, allowing him to live as the caretaker for the Crakers. The second book focuses on Ren, a former girlfriend of Jimmy's who grew up in the pleebands (unlike Jimmy, who was raised in a compound) with a group called the God's Gardeners. The two novels go back and forth in time, focusing on first the current time, post-disease and the past as Jimmy (and Ren) grow up.
MaddAddam followed a similar construct. In the present, Toby, a former God's Gardener/friend of Ren's (whose story was also revealed in The Year of the Flood), is living with some former God's Gardeners, as well as people referred to as MaddAddamites, scientists who worked with Crake to design the Crakers. The Crakers have relocated from the seaside to the nature preserve where they live. Life goes on, such as it is in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Toby fears that two escaped Painballers (criminals who survived Painball, an option to prison that sounds a lot like the Hunger Games) will come after them. She also worries about Jimmy, who has been in a coma since the end of the last book, as well as Amanda, viciously raped by the Painballers and accidentally sexually assaulted by the Craker men who thought she was ovulating (Crakers mate in a group atmosphere). Most of all, she struggles over her feelings for Zeb, the gruff former God's Gardener, who is one of the leaders of her ragtag group. Fortunately, Zeb returns her feelings and spends most of the novel telling her HIS story.
Like the previous two books, this novel moves back and forth in time. Zeb was raised by a sadistic preacher father along with his half-brother Adam (who grows up to be Adam One). The two young men eventually escape from home, separate and hide out in the world, away from their dad. Zeb gains a wealth of different experiences and comes into contact with various people from the previous books like Pilar and a very young Crake. Zeb's story weaves into the present as the Crakers grow fascinated by him and Toby tells his life to them as a "bedtime story". The Crakers have turned Oryx and Crake into gods (a fascinating turn of events since Crake wanted to eradicate institutions like religions from the world with his purge) and idealize Zeb as well. There are some very funny misunderstandings with the Crakers, who address everyone as "Oh Toby" or "Oh Zeb". When they hear someone say "Oh, Fuck", they think Fuck is a person and Toby has to invent a story that Fuck is an invisible helper of Crake's. That cracked me up every time I read it.
Frankly, not much happens in this book. Like the other novels, I always wanted more from the present. Zeb's story is interesting and a good read but I always just wanted to find out how these little group would survive the world. I think I felt that way about the other books too, but it's been so long since I've read them. I really recommend reading all three consecutively because I know I missed a lot that I didn't remember from the other two novels. I enjoyed reading how Zeb got to be in the God's Gardeners and then how he showed up with this group but I was more satisfied with the climatic scenes at the end between the Painballers, the Pigoons (pigs with human intelligence) and the Gardeners/Crakers/Addamites. And there was a lovely and sad look at what came next for the group. One of the little Craker boys, Blackbeard, became fascinated by writing and learned how to read and write because of Toby, which of course leads to written history and perhaps religious doctrine, defeating the purpose of Crake's purge of humanity.
Atwood creates incredibly three-dimensional, fascinating characters and a gripping story. It's a wonder that the flashbacks are as interesting (even though I wanted to stay in the present more) as the present day. Even though these books are probably classified as dystopia or sci-fi, really the stories are so well-written that I think most fiction readers would enjoy them. You can start with either Oryx or The Year of the Flood, although I recommend Oryx but definitely save MaddAddam for last. Someday, I really hope I have a chance to reread the whole thing to really appreciate the world that Atwood created.
Awesome essay about Crake's Attempted Utopia
Buy it at amazon and Barnes and Noble