Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

34. MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

Stories are what makes us human. But which stories? The stories that we tell to ourselves, the stories that we tell to our confidants, or the stories that we tell to our children?

The final book in Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy suggests that it is the last that is most important, and which will have the most lasting and unpredictable effects. It reminds me of Atwood's comment at the National Book Festival about new technologies having "a good use, a bad use, and a use that no one expects." In a trilogy that has opened against an immense background of advanced science and technology, which has both theoretically ruined and potentially saved the world, here is a return to the true building blocks of civilization-and surprise! the most dangerous, powerful, and potent tool of all is the Word, written and spoken.

Toby, the primary point-of-view character, teaches a Craker child how to write, and then thinks, "How soon before there are ancient texts they feel they have to obey but have forgotten how to interpret? Have I ruined them?" Although the Crakers are lab-created people, engineered by the famous Crake not to experience jealousy or strife, it is an open question how "human" the Crakers really are. They prove more than capable of imitation, and burst out into song and hero-worship that their creator did not intend. After all, perhaps the Crakers will repeat the mistakes of their human predecessors. Or, perhaps, they will fulfill their greatest potential. Like each of the first two books, MaddAddam leaves more questions than it answers.

It does, however, wrap up the stories of the characters followed in Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. This time, the sermons and the point-of-view belong largely to Toby, who while she was probably my favorite of the earlier books' three narrators, was not quite up to the vastness of this last book. Or, rather, the vastness it should have been. MadAddam is far more constrained in time and place than either of the previous books, and suffers for it. The story of Zeb, alias Mad Adam, is interspersed here with Toby's, and his adventurous stories are a breath of fresh air, but not enough. Toward the end, there are more and more contributions from the Craker child Blackbeard, but his voice, the voice of the future, is uncomfortably infantile, even when he is grown.

I longed to hear more of Ren and Jimmy, and while upset that Atwood did not reinvigorate their childhood romance, I was even more upset not to get some more at least of Jimmy's humorous narration. The one lucid conversation he has with Toby are some of the book's most entertaining lines. And while I enjoyed learning more about Zeb, I wished also that I could learn more about Ren's friend, Amanda, and about Swift Fox, a character who comes into play (but not enough) in MaddAddam.

Overall, I would highly recommend the trilogy, but The Year of the Flood is probably my favorite of the three.

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