IN THE OPENING SCENE of MaddAddam, a woman named Toby tells a story to a strange new race of humans: “In the beginning, you lived inside the Egg. That is where Crake made you.”
In this futuristic tale, the last of mankind has been thrown back into the garden, so to speak. Most of the population has been killed by a plague engineered to wipe the slate clean. This waterless “flood” was not sent by a vengeful god, however, but by a scientist named Crake. Convinced that humanity, corrupted by greed and corporate rule, had destroyed the planet and themselves beyond redemption, Crake decided he would replace them with a new and better breed.
Dystopic yet hilarious in the way of Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams, Atwood’s final novel in the trilogy that began with Oryx and Crake delivers her trademark insight and wit, as humanity reluctantly rediscovers its relationship to the earth, even in a shifted ecological landscape. Sophisticated in her cultural critique, Atwood is equally versed in the ways we resist the dominant culture and how such resistance can shape our future on this planet. And while decidedly futuristic and wacky (delightfully so), MaddAddam includes nothing that doesn’t exist already, or couldn’t exist, based on current technology.
Emerging from the chaos and destruction at the outset of the novel are the survivors who make up the cast of MaddAddam. There are a handful of “God’s Gardeners,” the remainders of an outlawed eco-cult that was at the center of the second book, The Year of the Flood; the Maddaddamites, a radical splinter group of God’s Gardeners; and the painballers—cruel, sadistic men, twisted by violence, who hunt the others. Then there are the animal survivors—bizarre, genetically spliced creatures like the mohairs (once bred to provide colorful hair implants) and the pigoons (giant pigs with hyperintelligence due to their human brain tissue).
But there are also the Crakers, the wide-eyed, blue-bellied people genetically engineered to replace humans. Designed to survive by eating grass, and to be immune from disease, jealousy, greed, and all the vices that led humankind to its troubled state, they are both better equipped to survive the new ecological situation and, in their innocence, in need of shepherding by the humans who understand the violence that remains.
We see this world through the eyes of Toby, who must explain to the childlike Crakers who they are. These biblical-style storytelling sessions punctuate the novel and are a major source of the book’s humor. Like a parent speaking to children, she tries to skirt the less seemly parts of the story (“We don’t need to talk about those things right now”), but is forced to embrace the gravity of what she is doing: “What comes next?” she wonders. “Rules, dogmas, laws? The Testament of Crake? How soon before there are ancient texts they feel they have to obey but have forgotten how to interpret? Have I ruined them?” Or perhaps, more pointedly, will the Crakers succeed in avoiding our mistakes?
Through a complex tapestry of narratives—stories told among characters, through song, through memorized history—Atwood shows the importance of storytelling in determining who we are and how we live on the planet. “There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too.”
The MaddAddam trilogy exposes the vast extent to which we’ve forgotten how to care for ourselves and the planet. But even as MaddAddam tears your faith apart, it will stitch it back up again, albeit in a patchwork fashion. The world at the end of this book looks different from the world we know now, but it is whole and beautiful as it emerges.