by Margaret Atwood
Read by Bernadette Dunne, Bob Walter, & Robbie Daymond
Random House, 2013
It takes a long time to get through an audiobook, what with all those pauses and feelings the voice actors insert. Novels for the ears became just when I needed when I decided it was time to workout a bit more than not at all. After teaching Oryx and Crake last fall, I decided it was good to listen to The Year of the Flood before I forgot everything I knew about the complex characters and world Atwood created. Of course, it was my Facebook feed that led me to realize MaddAddam had just come out in September, and if I waited to listen to it, if I put it in the queue, I would forget all of book two. These are long books, people. And thus began my month-long journey with MaddAddam.
MaddAddam picks up right where The Year of the Flood left off. Atwood is good and ending her books in this series with characters about to enter the frame, but we don’t know who or perhaps why. This time, it’s the Crakers who are coming to help Ren, Toby, and Jimmy who are trying to rescue Amanda from two Painballers. Atwood takes readers both back into Zeb’s and Adam One’s past and forward into the war between humans/Crakers/pigoons and Painballers.
Most of it is Zeb telling Toby the story of who he is so that she can retell it to the Crakers. You see, they heard Zeb say, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a bear,” so now they want to know if he is a bear or has a connection to bears. We learn who Zeb’s brother is and why Zeb, who didn’t really fit in, lived with the God’s Gardeners group. If you liked Zeb in the second book of the trilogy, then this is juicy stuff for you. Zeb knows computers, he likes to swear and irritate his brother, and we get full disclosure of his sexual history. Then again, readers have to ask if we need to know more about Zeb. I felt that it was important because his fringe behavior made no sense in book two; he couldn’t simply be the rebel.
Amazingly, three characters come up pregnant at the same time, and the possible fathers– Painballers as a result of rape? Crakers as a result of a cultural misunderstanding (rape)? Someone in the Cobb house?–makes readers ask: does a child who is the product of rape deserve to be loved by its mother? Atwood takes what I consider the easy road when we learn the biological beginnings of these babies when she really had an opportunity to poke at the readers in a post-apocalyptic world and make us uncomfortable. Things started to get comfortable, is what I’m saying.
The book ends with the war between “the good guys” (humans, the Craker translator boy named Blackbeard, and pigoons) and the “bad guys” (Painballers who have been punished so severely by society that they have no human emotions). The sub-species troops of “good guys” made for some interesting juxtapositions to what we’ve read earlier, in the first book for example, when the pigoons are going to eat Jimmy. If the Painballers are captured, the “good guys” must decide what will done with/to them. I put “good guys” in quotes because the levels of good vary by specie. The Crakers have no knowledge of violence or why it would be committed, whereas the humans have person bones with the Painballers. Even the pigoons have reasons for wanting the Painballers dead, but their treatment of the bodies would be different. Atwood uses the political commentary here on the death penalty to make readers question whether justice would prevail in a post-apocalyptic world or if the personal opinions of the most affected group would win over. This is where Atwood succeeds in getting readers to think.
However, she also has characters suggest that they are the only ones on the whole planet, but we’re talking about somewhere in the United States. A medium-sized group of people, almost all of whom knew each other before the “flood,” were able to reconnect. Either this is coincidence at its best, or there are a lot of other people out there we’re not meeting. Would the biggest threat be two Painballers? What if the focus had been more on restoring order? Perhaps the potential I’m seeing in MaddAddam would rehash what we’ve already read in Lord of the Flies, which is why I ultimately wanted the book to stop after we learned about Zeb. He was a great addition to the cast in the second book, rugged and loyal, but one who couldn’t be “tamed.” I was more interested in him than Ren and wondered if a third book was necessary if Ren had been removed and Zeb’s history inserted into The Year of the Flood. Sure, Ren connects us to Jimmy later on, but did we need so many connections?
Atwood’s trilogy is so long and time consuming that you might stop at Oryx and Crake and be satisfied. If you think you’re going to come away with something–some message or final emotion on which to settle–you may be disappointed. Everyone dies because we must. This seems to be Atwood’s way of ending her books: everyone you cared about has died from natural causes or murder or reasons unknown, which isn’t necessarily fulfilling.