To end the trilogy that began with Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood returns to the past in MaddAddam. That is, it continues where Year of the Flood left off, with Snowman the Jimmy in a coma and Toby left as the de facto story teller for the Crakers (an all new type of humans). One of the things I love most about The Handmaid’s Tale (by far my favourite Atwood) is its insistence on the importance of stories, of words and of the power of storytelling. MaddAddam expands upon this theme with the Crakers, who are true innocents, shielded for most of their lives from the outside world and learning about reality only through the stories first of Snowman the Jimmy and now of Toby.
There is action happening in MaddAddam – the threat of Painballer (evil men) attack is ever present, the Pigoons (mutated pigs with human intelligence) also pose a physical threat, and Toby is dealing with her feelings for Zeb and a woman named Swift Fox who threatens their relationship. There’s even a strikingly emotional subplot about a woman struggling to cope with rape and abuse and a rather disturbing subplot about human women deliberately trying to impregnate themselves with a Craker baby. I was somewhat disappointed by their desperation to become mothers, as if their life wouldn’t be complete without that, but at the same time, it does raise some interesting biological issues – what new breed of human will be formed by that, and how will the child be raised within such a society?
Still, for me, MaddAddam is primarily about story telling, and more to the point, myth making. We saw a hint of it in Jimmy’s storytelling in Oryx and Crake – how he reinterprets tangible, science fiction-ish, events into myth, turning Oryx into a god and Crake into a deified Eve figure. And it makes sense – even while we know Oryx and Crake are humans like us, to the Crakers, they certainly are the creators, and therefore a form of deity. Still, in Oryx and Crake, Atwood was mostly concerned with world building, and there was plenty within those stories to catch our eye.
With MaddAddam, the world has already been created for us, and Atwood, through the character of Toby, can relax into showing in loving detail how these stories are reinterpreted. It helps that the story of Zeb and his brother Adam (Adam One) are a bit less science fiction-like than that of Oryx, Crake and Jimmy, providing us more grounding to distinguish reality from myth. Toby herself is also dealing with threats of Painballers and Pigoons, as well as her romance with Zeb, and so we are continuously being pulled out of her storytelling, and constantly see her struggling to frame real events as myths, and re-imagining interpretations of certain events in order to fit with the mythology that Jimmy had set up. I love the depiction of Jimmy’s distaste for the mythology he himself created, especially in contrast with the desire of one of the Crakers to commit all of the stories to memory, and to learn to write so that future Crakers may know it as well. This is a society coming to form, and a sacred text being written, and for us readers, being privy to the reality behind the myth holds a particular fascination.
The big, climactic scene where it all comes to a head is striking in its narrative style. Atwood chooses to have us hear it from the perspective of a storyteller, and while, having read about these characters for so long, we can imagine the harsh tones of certain points, the story is swathed in epic, and a Pigoon, who has otherwise not been featured as an individual in the trilogy, takes a pivotal role.
MaddAddam is not my personal favourite of the trilogy – I much preferred the more glamourous unreality of Oryx and Crake. But it does bring the trilogy full circle, and ends it right on the cusp of a new tomorrow.
Thank you to Random House of Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.