Book review: ‘MaddAddam’ caps Atwood’s trilogy on world’s end

LOS ANGELES TIMESSeptember 8, 2013 

  • ‘MADDADDAM’ by Margaret Atwood; Nan Talese/Doubleday ($27.95)

Sometimes Margaret Atwood can get a little goofy. I mean no disrespect to the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” — in fact, it’s a good thing that she writes intelligent works of dystopian fiction with a sense of humor. Otherwise, the end of the world as we know it might be just too grim.

Her new novel, “MaddAddam,” concludes the trilogy begun in 2003 with “Oryx and Crake” and continued in “The Year of the Flood” (2009). The titles of the second and third books reference the origin and Noah stories found in the Bible. Atwood’s flood is a plague created by a brilliant geneticist playing God, a man called Crake who tries to wipe out all the humans on Earth while creating a better species. Members of a fringe environmental group that survived address their senior men as Adam and women as Eve. These biblical echoes are far from holy, however: A key locale is a high-end sex club called “Scales and Tails,” where the acts incorporate snakes. Temptation, indeed.

“MaddAddam” will be decipherable to those who haven’t read the other books, yet those who have won’t be bored; flashbacks fill in the story from new perspectives, particularly Zeb’s. A middle-aged bad boy, Zeb is the abused, black-sheep son of the corrupt reverend of the Church of PetrOleum, who preached, “My friends, as we all know, ‘oleum’ is the Latin word for oil. And indeed, oil is holy throughout the Bible! What else is used for the anointing of priests and prophets and kings? Oil!”

With puns and wordplay, Atwood pokes fun at our reality through the bleak future she’s imagined. She prefers the term “speculative fiction” to “science fiction” because, since “The Handmaid’s Tale,” she has seen her novels as extrapolations of the present into a possible future. One of her seemingly fanciful details, luminescent rabbits, has actually become a reality. The sexual enhancement drug that served as a carrier for the plague — called BlyssPluss — is not far removed from contemporary drugs like Viagra and Cialis.

Atwood doesn’t just ask “what if?” She raises an eyebrow and says, “See where we’re going?” Yet she’s not a pessimist: She’s invented a future large enough to include, after the end of the world, people falling in love.

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