When MaddAddam, the final installment in Margaret Atwood’s trilogy by the same name, came out in September I decided to play it cool. Cool as in “If I don’t read it it can’t end, therefore I’m not going to read it.” That didn’t last long, so I tried the next best thing, reading it slow, so slow that it was just us, me and MaddAddam against … against no one in particular. But reading slow is boring.
I was anxious.
What do you do when you have such high hopes for a book that it almost paralyzes you from reading it? I guess it’s sort of like waiting in line for a roller coaster and when you finally get to the front those harnesses start looking awful scrappy. Are you sure you wanna go?
MaddAddam begins where the first two books converged. Remember, plots in book one and two ran parallel with a few overlapping characters. You puzzled through why Jimmy-the-snowman is in a tree hiding from the end of his civilization, surrendering to hallucinations of the girl from his past with a ribbon in her hair. You also learned why Toby is stuck in a spa stalked by monster pigs with human intelligence (pigoons) and why Ren is trapped at a sex club wearing some kind of lizard-y fetish skin suit. Somehow they’ve all arrived at a campfire built by the two of the most dangerous men remaining, the Painballers.
Now that many of the God’s Gardeners and MaddAddamites have found each other and began building out a communal living space outside of the city, a sense of normalcy sets in for the first time in the series’ present. But we don’t stay in the present. This is a backwards-glancing novel. Because, not coincidentally, many who survived know something that may have stopped the worse from happening, had they anticipated it. Or not. Their past lives are stories now. Add them up and write them down, as Toby begins to do while they wait for the cause of the epidemic to die out.
They’ve brought the Crakers back to their camp to protect them, huge blue penises and all. They are constantly observed and always observing and learning things their were never intended to know. Toby wonders how Crake could have created them while simultaneously destroying the existing population. She doesn’t know the answer lies in Jimmy’s broken memory, but you do. The reader connects the dots of Crake’s loss and fixations combined with his high intelligence and determination to change things no matter what the cost.
Maybe he wanted to end it. Cut that part out of us: the grinding, elemental malice. Begin us anew.
Have to admit, I had explosive expectations for this book and had to let them go early on. We spend a lot of time in Zeb’s past, at Toby’s request, as he continues to search for Adam One, his lost brother and the founder of God’s Gardeners.
Without the structure of familiarity the Gardeners, MaddAddamites and Crakers drift. They have no goals beyond survival, or calendars to measure if time is in fact passing. They bear the burden of continuing the human race with dirt beneath their fingernails. They’re waiting for meaning to resume and not certain that it will. Though they resent Crake for doing what he did, it was a thorough way to end their genetically modified existence and bring life back to its purest form.
Toby records things not knowing if anyone will be there in the future to read or care. Writing a journal is her extreme act of optimism, that and falling in love.
Why is it always such a surprise? thinks Toby. The moon. Even though we know it’s coming. Every time we see it, it makes us pause, and hush.
I like that this trilogy deals with people in pairs, opposites who spend more time apart than together, looking to get that one real connection back. I like that Atwood makes it possible to imagine how the world we live in today could continue to unfold. I like that she invites you to wonder what it would be like to outlive most everyone? It’s just you, a few gardeners and hackers neighboring highly capable psychopaths and hoards of Frankensteined animals.
We’re at the end of civilization as we could know it and still man-made dangers always lurk, reminding the survivors that surviving is a temporary state, an unscientific equation of luck and will. For a story about the end of our society, the plot is somehow both quiet and in your face. And it can’t go without saying that Atwood’s writing is beyond excellent.
I loved this series, but don’t want to oversell it. It’s pretty cool. Check out if you want.