EccentricMuse

Eccentric Musings (jakaEM)

"I have undergone sharp discipline which has taught me wisdom; and then, I have read more than you would fancy." Emily Brontë

 

still figuring this place out - Jen W

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Currently reading

Friend of My Youth
Alice Munro
Progress: 115/288 pages
Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature
Margaret Atwood

Maddaddam: Glimmers of antidiluvian grief and hope

MaddAddam - Margaret Atwood

It is too soon to rate - although I've picked 4.5 for now. The trilogy overall, though, is an absolute five. A stunning vision; exceptional execution; provocative themes about greed and ethics, environmental degradation, out-of-control technology ... and maybe a shred of optimism for humanity, such as it is or will be. (I'm hoping that someone is working on the Crakers in a lab somewhere.) An upvote for resilience and hope, at least in the short term.

I know most people thought the previous two, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood - the latter in particular - stronger, but I don't know: this one grabbed me and really packed an emotional punch. I think, perhaps, it was the innocence-versus-corruption theme throughout that captured my heart. Also, the theme and structural reinforcement of the drive for story-telling and mythmaking: the critical importance that telling our stories, documenting them, passing them on, which is all we have to (re)create meaning and provide comfort in a world that is otherwise dark and empty. "People need such stories, Pilar said once, because however dark, a darkness with voices in it is better than a silent void."

Being the last in the trilogy, and the one that brings it all together, MaddAddam also gets high marks for the resolution: a strange mix of resigned sadness, more like grief, and hope.

 

She gives us a second generation. She gives us not the end of the story, but its next chapter. She brings back deer and frogs and bees. She shows us inter-species conflict resolution. She kills the bad guys - but not without due process. She gives the Crakers written language - not just oral story-telling. She gives us the white pebble alternative future to the black pebble alternative future that she's also given us.

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The idea that we are oil-barrelling blindly down a road towards this--and that it is too late to stop or even swerve--is fundamental here, as in the earlier two. The details are so specific and so current (e.g., fracking in northern Alberta and pipelines in the Arctic) we cannot fail to recognize them. Atwood's postscript emphasizing that everything she describes is part of today's technology or at the least theoretically possible is chilling.

 

She doesn't need to tell us that - the sense of familiarity and of the inevitable, looming plausibility of it all is visceral.

Atwood leaves us here at the end of this trilogy with enough ambiguity and open-endedness that some interpretation is still required; enough to prevent our complacency, perhaps. There may be no hope that we can prevent our fall, but overall, the pigoons and the Crakers and the stories being passed on is maybe enough for our regeneration.

 

There are definitely niggly bits: Like Elizabeth, and other commenters / reviewers, I too struggle with the seemingly too-easily excused rape of Amanda and Ren by the Crakers, and haven't yet got a reasonable explanation for what Atwood's purpose was here. Although I think describing it as a "cultural misunderstanding" is vitally important. It's also important that it wasn't just Amanda - already traumatized by the Painballers.

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Even if I don’t have an explanation for exactly what she meant, I do feel somewhat confident in saying that it was clear what she was doing, and that is setting up a contrast between the Painballers and the Crakers. Perhaps drawing a distinction between rape as a weapon of war as used by the Painballers, versus rape as ... something else? Or maybe raising the whole issue as an example of "Miss Direction" - that would be Atwood's style. And what would THAT be saying?

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Certainly, the Crakers' sexuality was explicitly designed to set conventional, 21st C notions of, for example, sexual jealousy, on their head (as contrasted nicely with Toby’s own sexual jealousy throughout).  The Crakers themselves--the innocents born of Adam One and Eve Two (Pilar), who left the garden/egg--must be viewed as the next evolutionary step for humanity, expressly engineered in every aspect, including a sexual one, for a post-waterless Flood world in which, presumably, the vision was to prevent a return to the corruption and degradation wrought by humans on the old one.

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That the Crakers are sexually compatible with humans is a critical element explored, but not resolved, in the text. There had to be a pregnancy to demonstrate that (several, to provide the possibility of a future, cross-bred human-Craker population to re-seed the planet).  So, was it all just to lay the ground for that crucial plot point?  I’d say not, specifically because of that loaded term “cultural misunderstanding.”  More thoughts on that in a follow up post, I think.

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Thank you. Good night.