MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood, Nan A Talese/Doubleday, 2013, 390 pp
Margaret Atwood is one of my top three favorite authors. She is frighteningly intelligent, has a sense of humor, and writes about women better than anyone else. Her speculative fiction trilogy that began with Oryx and Crake, followed by The Year of the Flood, wraps up perfectly in this final volume.
I suppose you could read MaddAddam as a stand alone but if you don't already know Oryx, Crake, Jimmy, the God's Gardeners, and the Crakers, you might not get all that goes on in this one. She delves more deeply into the back-stories of the characters, tying together loose ends and making the whole story even more believable.
The survivors of the pandemic that wiped out most of the human race at the end of Oryx and Crake are holed up in a rustic dwelling subsisting on whatever they can scavenge and fortifying their space against the crazed Painballers. They have been joined by the bio-engineered Crakers and are also dealing with possible interbreeding.
Though Atwood achieved wide spread acclaim after The Handmaid's Tale won the Booker Prize in 1986, I don't think that was her best novel. In her novels Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin she reached a pinnacle, defining the roles of women in society while writing novels as compelling as any bestselling fiction. Where else could she go but back to the future?
The heroine in MaddAddam is Toby. She is the one whose practicality and level-headedness kept things together for the God's Gardeners in The Year of the Flood. But she also fell in love with the renegade Zeb, whose checkered life story is finally revealed in full. Toby is no babe, she has been beat up by life, and she has a few flaws. Atwood uses the love story between Toby and Zeb to great tragicomic effect, tackling sexual jealousy and possessiveness, commitment and promiscuity, as well as testosterone vs estrogen. In fact, the entire novel contemplates whether or not, given another chance, the human race could create a better pattern for existence.
One of the ways humans create the future is by telling stories about the past. Toby gets the role of storyteller as she invents for the Crakers, in terms they can understand, tales about who they are, where they came from, and how they can help the hapless, violent, destructive humans. Crake created his creatures to be free of the characteristics that spell doom for the human race, but evil is still afloat in the wake of the waterless flood. The Crakers need protection but the humans need abilities only the Crakers have.
We know these books are just stories about what if we go on as we are. Margaret Atwood has said so. She is not making predictions, though many of the details are based on prodigious scientific research, making them all possibilities. But in a great interview with KCRW's Michael Silverblatt on his show BookWorm, she makes it clear that she has hope for us idiots. If you are in despair about the state of the world, I highly recommend reading the trilogy in full. If you just want an entertaining story about the future, you will get that as well.
(MaddAddam is available in hardcover and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)