MaddAddam

by Margaret Atwood

5/10

This was bizarre and disappointing. Some of the bizarre touches were positive: Toby’s “stories” to the Crakers were oftentimes LOL funny. . . and talking pigs? Sure, why not? Some of them were not: the principal romantic relationship develops out of thin air and quickly devolves into adolescent lovey-dovey.

But most of the wackiness was just a rehash from the first two books, and most of the rest of the novel was — if you read my Year of the Flood review, you might guess it — yep, more backstory.

It’s so much backstory (this time Zeb’s) that about halfway through I had that “Uh-oh” moment: Oh no, I was so excited to read this but it’s just going to be a repeat of everything I disliked about “Year.” In fact, at the end of my “Year” review, I specifically said, “I fully intend to read. . . ‘MaddAddam,’ but I hope more happens in it than in this one.”

Luckily though, the plot started to pick up at around that halfway point. By the end of the novel we even got to advance chronologically a few months (and in the coda, years).

The end, however, was by far the most frustrating part of the entire trilogy. Atwood’s decision to narrate the finale and epilogue from the inadequate perspective of “Blackbeard the Craker” felt like a huge cop-out.

I can’t emphasize enough how frustrating it was. It’s like she didn’t want to take the time to actually describe what happened (or didn’t know how), so she just threw out a Cliff’s Notes version to her readers as the smallest possible bone that could pass as a meal.

There was potentially a huge payoff there (including the death of four principal characters and the sudden, flawless creation of a Human-Craker hybrid) that I felt totally cheated out of. It is a choice that, at the end of a 1200 page trilogy, feels absolutely inexcusable. I don’t know how else to put it, and actually, now that I look back on my other Atwood reviews (“Year,” Oryx and Crake, and The Handmaid’s Tale), literally every single ending of hers I’ve read has felt like a cop-out.

So all of that adds up to probably less than a 3-star review, but I’m upgrading based on my affection for the characters, the creativity, and the wordsmith-ery. This novel in particular is not as creative necessarily as the first two; it’s the same world after all. But her creativity in language, perspective, and phrasing are still top-notch. Zeb’s perspective offered some of the choicest cuts, as did the aforementioned one-sided conversations that Toby endured with the Crakers while story-telling.

The creativity of her universe, again on display here, has led me to look back more favorably on “Oryx.” It really is quite a brilliant world she has created, extrapolated just far enough away that it feels like an alternate universe, but close enough to comment on many important issues related to technology, consumerism and environmental damage.   I think it’s this brilliance that fueled my disappoitnment in the 2nd and 3rd installments.  Each time I was expecting something as fresh and original as “Oryx” again, and each time I just got variations on the theme.

Some of the predictions get stale in this last one, and quite a few of them feel either forced or retro-fitted, or both (e.g., the sudden appearance of tablet computers in this installment). But the overall feat makes the 1st one appear all the more impressive to my inexpert eyes.  In fact, I sort of wish Atwood had just left it at “Oryx,” especially given what she did to Toby in this one (converting her from tough, reluctant warrior-goddess to clumsy, snivelling Zeb-stalker).

So overall what do we have here? In the last two books of the trilogy, very little plot got advanced. Both of them were largely composed of the backstory of three chracters — Toby, Ren and Zeb — and for that reason both of them end up feeling largely unnecessary.

It was still a compulsive read, for which I credit both Atwood’s language and her characters. It had the same positives and negatives of the previous two: the wacky-sometimes-cartoonish tone; the creativity of setting and wordplay; the ridiculous coincidence that every major player in the post-apocalyptic world knew each other intimately beforehand.

But overall, let’s hope the series ends here, and that she doesn’t decide to write a 4th installment consisting primarily of Adam One’s backstory.

Original Review

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