Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Just finished reading...

...THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD by Margaret Atwood, the second book in her MaddAddam Trilogy.

Atwood continues to scare the hell out of me. This engrossing second installment in her MaddAddam trilogy is a perfect companion to the first book ORYX AND CRAKE. In that book, we jump back and forth in time, tracing the story of two young men and a world in chaos. THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD is neither a sequel nor a prequel—the action takes place at the same time as ORYX AND CRAKE complete with similar jumps in time. In FLOOD, we follow the story of two women—they and others in this tale were peripheral or fleeting characters in ORYX AND CRAKE, and it is gratifying and fascinating to meet them officially and explore their perspectives, understand their lives and motivations, and learn how they got where they are.

Once again, the story of the characters and their survival, although expertly rendered and told, takes a backseat to the complete and total world of horror that Atwood has created. Just like The Republic of Gilead in THE HANDMAID’S TALE, the world in THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD and ORYX AND CRAKE seems not only plausible but likely considering the current position and trajectory of the world. It is a world in which Corporations have taken over everything, including governments and police forces which have been privatized. Those who work for the Corporations (bio-technological firms and gene splicing corporations) live in affluent, spotless fenced compounds while the rest of the world lives in what closely resembles the dangerous and violent squalor of “Escape From New York.” Gangs control crime and the streets while the Corporations secretly control the gangs, meat is grown on racks (just the muscle, no bodies or brains), and pharmaceutical and gene companies purposely release infectious engineered illnesses so they can treat them at outrageous prices. Not too different from today, which is why it scares me so. Of course the near-extinction of the entire human race—on purpose—is pretty horrific as well, but seems a little far off. Or perhaps it is simply too big for my mind to contemplate or understand. The genetically modified creatures roaming the earth in this world are also frightening and pitiful; some splices are just too cruel like the liobams, a gene splice of a lion and a lamb (created by crazy zealots from a religion called Lion Isaiahists).

Atwood creates lots of new social and cultural elements in THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD but the central idea here is the alternative religion called God’s Gardeners. The novel starts a little slow, and the Gardeners might seem a little bizarre at first, like all of the other nut-job fringe religions, but as the book progressed and the plot picked up, and I saw more characters that I recognized from the first novel, the more I came to see the Gardener’s ways as sensible. True, they may have been a little too extreme—and ultimately self-sabotaging—with some of their beliefs, but for the most part, I felt myself liking them more and more and my sympathy for them becoming stronger and stronger. Indeed, they remind me, in their mildest state, of the Slow Food Movement: know where your food comes from, grow it naturally in respect not only for the land and the planet but for your body as well since it will become a part of you. Their reverence for all life—but particularly animals—seems rather Buddhist in nature and quite lovely; I identify with that since I recently decided to stop eating pork because pigs are so smart and loving. I am okay with eating turkey and chicken, and I will occasionally eat beef but I prefer it be raised without hormones and antibiotics, and that it was grass and not corn fed… and slaughtered humanely (or as humanely as possible). But in Atwood’s world, I think I would definitely eat a pigoon (even though they might look like pigs) since they are so cruel, calculating, and violent. When they lay eyes on you, their first thought is how to kill you and eat you… so it would behoove me to kill them and eat them first.

The Gardeners suffer a schism in the book and both factions seem to be better for it. As the leader of the original Gardeners says, “We have taken the World given to us and carelessly destroyed its fabric and its Creatures. Other religions have taught that this World is to be rolled up like a scroll and burnt to nothingness, and that a new Heaven and a new Earth will then appear. But why would God give us another earth when we have mistreated this one so badly?
No, my Friends. It is not this Earth that is to be demolished: it is the Human Species. Perhaps God will create another, more compassionate race to take our place.”

I am anxiously awaiting the third and final installment in this apocalyptic trilogy.

Recommend? Yes. Like I said in the review for ORYX AND CRAKE, you will want to read this so you can know what your future will be like… and know when to run.

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