The dystopian trilogy about a post-apocalyptic world concludes as the leftover humans and the man-made Crakers face off against the murderous Painballers and the threat that the plague isn’t over.
I loved so much in MaddAddam, and I adore Margaret Atwood to such a great extent that I feel guilty giving it anything other than high praise. But as with Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, the other two books in the trilogy, I never fully lost myself in the world she created.
For one, I felt distanced by her neologisms and fictional brand names. They just didn’t ring true for me–they encapsulated the ideas she was expressing but didn’t feel organic to any world. For example, the strip club is called Scales and Tails. Sure, it features women dressed up like exotic birds, and some creepy snake stuff, but the name is just so intellectualized. It’s not dirty or edgy. Similarly, I kept getting distracted by the spa called AnooYoo. Why the weird spelling? It can’t be extrapolated organically from anything I can link to in our reality. It’s like it’s constructed merely to telegraph that this world is in the future. And it’s a shame, because the scenes set in these locations have all the depth and drama and complexity that I expect from Atwood.
And that leads me to a bigger criticism. Atwood has some very legitimate big ideas, and she’s a brilliant and beautiful writer. I do love and adore her, and always will. But her criticism and dystopian vision seem woefully divorced from the world we live in today. The technological elements felt stuck in the early 1990s. None of her characters seemed like progeny of the digital age. This could be the result of beginning the trilogy about 10 years ago, but even so she still feels very much out of date. I’m not expecting William Gibson but I was frustrated with the missed opportunity.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’ll sing her praises for the best part of the book–the complexity of the relationship between the humans and the Crakers. One of the devices in the book is that the Crakers expect a story every night, a tradition started by Snowman in book 1. Jimmy is comatose at the start of this book, so Toby (who played a prominent role in book 2), has taken over. She is trying to explain the history of the apocalypse to people who are innocent, and Atwood’s prose is just exquisite. (“Please stop singing.”) And I really loved the character of Zeb and how she kept his journey personal even as it connected with the very big things that were going on. And lastly, I was pleasantly surprised with how she incorporated the pigoon hybrids into the story. I wasn’t expecting the story to head in that direction and it raised a lot of fascinating ideas.