MaddAddam: A Novel by Margaret Atwood (New York: Nan A. Talese, 2013. 416 pp)
Born in Ottawa in the autumn of 1939, Margaret Atwood grew up in Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She attained her B.A. from Victoria College, University of Toronto and her M.A. from Radcliffe College. Atwood has written more than 50 works of poetry, children’s fiction, fiction, and non-fiction. While she is most known for her many novels, her book, Blind Assassin, received highest acclaim winning the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Currently, she lives with Graeme Gibson in Toronto.
*Spoiler Alert for Previous Books in Effect*
It’s somewhat humorous, but there’s always a requirement for believability no matter the narrative. If aliens are attacking earth, we still want them to respond to gravity. If zombies attack the major urban centers, we expect the main characters to care for each other.
You can get away with quite a bit of “unbelievability” so long as something keeps the story grounded. Oryx and Crake, the first installment of Margaret Atwood’s post-apocalyptic trilogy, did a great job of setting the stage. Even though the world went to hell, she painted a picture telling us how society as we currently experience it could morph into such a hellish future.
Again in The Year of the Flood, Atwood expanded the story through the experience of a completely different character. While some may critique the structure—a sequel for many means a continuation of the story told through the same characters, Atwood built the world a bit more.
But with her concluding novel, MaddAddam, the believability of the narrative melts away as coincidence after coincidence positions all of these separate characters into the same place, same time, and same purpose. This serendipity, sadly, limits the success of the book.
Past and Future
Atwood tells two stories in one. She discusses the current-day struggles of Toby, Zeb, and newly discovered and slatternly Jimmy as they seek survival in the “waterless flood.” The genetically modified “Crakers” buzz around the compound asking questions of everything and finding it odd that they can’t mate with any of the “two-skinned” human women.
In addition to this narrative, Atwood splices Zeb’s history before the end of the world—his relationship with his brother Adam and the evil, manipulative megachurch run by his father.
“By the time Zeb came along, the Rev had a megachurch, all glass slobbery and pretend oak pews and faux granite, out on the rolling plains. The Church of PetrOleum, affiliated with the somewhat more mainstream Petrobaptists. They were riding high for a while, about the time accessible oil became scarce and the price shot up and desperation among the pleebs set in. A lot of top Corps guys would turn up at the church as guest speakers. They’d thank the Almighty for blessing the world with fumes and toxins, cast their eyes upwards as if gasoline came from heaven, look pious as hell” (111).
Zeb’s backstory completes the story behind the end of the world. The reader begins to understand the seditious undercurrent in the God’s Gardeners and a better sense of the cause behind the massive pandemic. Everything gets tied up in a neat bow.
From a character perspective, the reader begins to understand the massive amount of pain each and every person shoulders even if the next day carries no guarantee.
Their bodies tell their stories:
“A scar is like writing on your body. It tells about something that once happened to you, such as a cut on your skin where blood came out” (91).
Less Is More
Even though Atwood offers pristine prose with page-turning sensibilities, I couldn’t help but consider MaddAddam the least important book of the series. While it does a decent job of wrapping up, I found the more detail provided to be a detriment to the story. Oryx and Crake succeeds because it leaves so much to the imagination. Atwood housed the story within the perspective of one individual who may or may not be completely mad.
In adding the histories of Toby and Zeb in the next two installments, a complete picture comes to fruition. Yet at the same time, cracks emerge. Ultimately, such a criticism is pretty minute considering the context of the story, but less would have been more in this instance.
MaddAddam is still a worthy read and I would recommend the trilogy overall, it just felt like I was encountering diminishing returns with this book.
Verdict: 2 out of 5