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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 309

MaddAddam picks up where Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood (which take place in parallel time) leave off. The story begins with the Crakers coming upon Ren, Toby, Amanda, Jimmy (whom they know as Snowman). Toby is the primary protagonist and is followed to the Cobb House...

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MaddAddam picks up where Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood (which take place in parallel time) leave off. The story begins with the Crakers coming upon Ren, Toby, Amanda, Jimmy (whom they know as Snowman). Toby is the primary protagonist and is followed to the Cobb House by the Crakers and the others.

Zeb isn't present at Cobb House because he, and some other men, have been looking for Adam One, the leader of God's Gardeners, in the hope that he has survived. Zeb evades kidnapping and, as he tells his story to Toby, we learn that he is the half-brother of Adam. We learn that a woman forager called Swift Fox is also attracted to Zeb and this puts a strain on the new relationship between Zeb and Toby. Amanda learns that she is pregnant and it is probably because of the one of the sadistic Painballers who had raped her (The Year of the Flood).

Later, Toby succeeds in communicating with Pilar, the Eve to the Gardeners' Adam, and learns to create an abortifacient for Amanda. Toby also begins to get close to a Craker child called Blackbeard, whom she teaches how to read and write.

In the final chapters, there's a battle between the Painballers and the others and the Painballers are finally killed (something Toby was unable to do at the beginning of the book). Eventually Zeb, Toby, and Jimmy die too. However, the future is less bleak than it seemed at first. The Painballers have been defeated for good. The women who had sex with the Crakers have managed to give birth, thus re-starting a different kind of life. The Crakers and the genetically modified pigs are able to live in relative harmony. The novel ends when Blackbeard becomes the keeper of humanity, partly because of all he learned from Toby.

Summary

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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1719

Author: Margaret Atwood (b. 1939)

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday (New York). 416 pp.

Type of work: Novel

Time: Unspecified future

Locale: East coast of the United States near Boston, Massachusetts

In this last installment of the MaddAddam trilogy, Toby struggles with survival and with love among the few remaining humans in the ruins of a postapocalyptic world. Simultaneously she becomes the mythmaker for the future species of the planet, a bioengineered group of humanoids called Crakers.

What might the world look like after the fall of civilization? This is the question Margaret Atwood asks in Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Year of the Flood (2009), the first two novels in her MaddAddam trilogy. Yet if the dystopian society of these books was bleak, then this new world in MaddAddam is more promising. There is hope that humanity, or least a reasonable facsimile of humanity, can write a better story the second time around. Indeed, throughout this final installment, MaddAddam casts a whimsical and ironic eye on the nature of storytelling, throwing fresh light on stories that readers thought they already knew and on the stories that are just beginning in this strange new world.

For those unfamiliar with the trilogy, this new novel makes little sense. Thus, Atwood begins the novel with a summary of "The Story So Far." Even with this heading, the reader may question, "the story according to whom?" The first novel, Oryx and Crake, tells the story of the dystopian future as "history from above." But even this is not a straightforward narrative; it comes as a flashback of the Snowman, seemingly the last man on earth. Snowman, former friend of the mad genius Crake, remembers life as it once was: a nightmarish cityscape in which corporations had taken control of every facet of life. The poor of the Pleeblands eat their SecretBurgers and drink their Happicappuccinos. The rich, on the other hand, who feel bad about the environment, can have NevRBled Shish-K-Buddies, meat guaranteed to come from the lab. For less innocent pleasures, the Nitee-Nite show features live suicides and Hedsoff.com is a site to experience reenacted beheadings. Humanity seems to be asking to receive its just deserts. So, Crake, with ironic zeal, creates a corporate-sponsored pill, BlyssPlus, to wipe out humanity with a plague, but he also has a solution: the Crakers. Not unlike H. G. Well's Eloi, they are a gentle, plague-proof species of humanoids bioengineered to be free of sexual jealousy and greed. They are even free from the need of clothing, insect repellent, and animal protein. The Snowman, as their reluctant prophet, has a new story of humanity, even a new religion, to tell these simple creatures as they encounter the new world.

The second novel, The Year of the Flood, tells the story of the dystopian future as "history from below." Again it comes in the form of a flashback, but this time from the perspective of Toby, a "pleebrat," who is also a survivor of the plague. In Toby's preplague world, the "consumers" of Pleeblands have the three different perspectives on this corporate nightmare. The God's Gardeners are a green religious group founded by Adam One, who combined principles of scripture and nature while teaching practical survival skills in preparation for the "Waterless Flood" (i.e., the plague). In another ironic spin, the Gardeners have spies within the corporate labs who keep their prophet supplied with the information they need to uphold their religious narrative. On the other side are the MaddAddamites, a rebel group led by the streetwise former Gardener Zeb. They scorn the Gardeners' narrative of peace and resort instead to bioterrorism. Last and most extreme are the Painballers who are survivors of neogladiatorial games and who respond to most members of society with rape, murder, and cannibalism. The Year of the Flood follows Toby as the God's Gardeners rescue her from her job at SecretBurger and from her Painballer boss. From there she becomes a Gardener who nevertheless falls in love with rebel Zeb. After the plague, Toby, along with a few other Gardener and MaddAddamite survivors, are in hot pursuit of a pair of Painballers who have kidnapped Amanda, one of her Gardener pupils.

MaddAddam tells the story of the new postapocalyptic future as a "redacted history," adapted by Toby to fit the understanding of the simple and innocent Crakers. There are the usual flashbacks but also dreams and even journal entries, which are alternate perspectives in storytelling. Unlike the second novel of the trilogy, this novel begins exactly where last novel left off. Toby recovers Amanda from her kidnappers, though her Painballer kidnappers escape, and encounters the Crakers, who need help for their chosen prophet, Snowman, who is in a feverish coma. Thus Toby, a traumatized Amanda, and the Crakers bearing the Snowman regroup with the few human survivors in a compound, where they begin scavenging for food, fending off Pigoons (bioengineered pigs with bits of human brain), and setting up defenses against the Painballers. In this relatively safe space and with their prophet on bed rest, the Crakers look to Toby to tell them the stories of their origin.

This is the heart of the novel where Atwood waxes philosophical on the nature of story and human history and her wit and whimsy shine. Toby states, "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." Everyone is part of a story, and everyone has his or her own version when telling that story. Thus, the readers learn the true history of the enigmatic Zeb and then hear the tale again as Toby tells it as a bedtime story to the childlike Crakers. The bedtime stories are populated with new characters like the great spirit F—, who materialized when the Crakers needed an explanation as to why the humans called out "Oh f—!" when in distress. Indeed, the complete innocence of the Crackers is fertile soil for a new creation myth. They are the new Adam and Eve.

Margaret Atwood has authored more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. Her work has been published in thirty-five countries and has won multiple prizes. In addition to the Governor General Award–winning The Handmaid's Tale, her novels include Cat's Eye, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, and Oryx and Crake

In contrast to the Crakers are the few human survivors who face a much more complex future. In a dramatic twist, the remaining God's Gardeners, who once called themselves Adams and Eves, are philosophically adrift now that Adam One's prophecy of the "Waterless Flood" has come true. How do they put together a meaningful story from the pieces of humanity's shattered past? The humans, in their ability to see shades of gray, perhaps have a more technically accurate picture of the truth. But in a new world of Crakers where a simple and pleasant creation myth suffices, Homo sapiens have little to offer the new gene pool except perhaps the taint of their metaphysical confusion.

An interesting case study in these new Adams and Eves is the Craker named Blackbeard (the "god" Crake, it turns out, has a strange sense of humor in naming his creations). Toby meets the impossibly endearing Blackbeard as young boy and teaches him to read and write, and Blackbeard's journal comprises the last pages of the novel. Thus, Atwood's readers observe the evolution of the new humanity from an oral to a written culture and from spoken story to history. Moreover, readers see the future with no humans to reinterpret history in understandable terms for the innocent Crakers. Perhaps the nuance that Homo sapiens bring is necessary for survival?

An interesting case study in the old Adams and Eves is Zeb, who is a former Adam of the Green Gardeners. Zeb's past, more than his present, fills up much of the novel. His is the last major story in this three-part epic, and it answers the unanswered questions in previous novels. If Toby is the old Eve in this new world, then Zeb is the old Adam. Is it a good thing that the old way of life, represented by Zeb, is slowly fading away? He is the natural leader of this group of humans and Crakers because he is arguably the strongest survivor of them all. Zeb's ways of wily wilderness animalism seem to be the key to human survival, but is it really?

Readers of the past two installments may be upset by the change of pace and tone in the last part of this trilogy. The character of Toby especially takes a dramatic turn. Inside the relative protection of the compound, this hardened woman warrior begins to soften and allow herself to love. Some may see her romantic travails as the reverted ravings of a high school girl. Indeed, all the remaining Homo sapiens are prone to trivial jealousies and petty quarrels. But for people who have been living through the terror of the apocalypse, these faults can also be seen as a rehumanizing process. Nevertheless, the novels do achieve an exciting climax, and the peaceful Crakers prove to be more resourceful than at first blush.

The final ironic genius of this three-volume epic is not the multilayered storytelling through the series, but rather Atwood's own subtle reversal as the novelist controlling this narrative. Oryx and Crake makes no secret of condemning the bioengineered future where (as she speculates) humanity is heading. Yet by the conclusion of MaddAddam, it is exactly the bioengineered Crakers who offer any real promise for the new humanity. They even have their own entourage of bizarre bioengineered animals—Pigoons, Mo'Hairs, and other oddities—to accompany them into, perhaps, a new Eden. This is no longer the world for the children of Adam; it is the world for the children of MaddAddam.

Review Sources

  • Ermelino, Louis. Rev. of MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood. Publishers Weekly 16 Sept. 2013: 12. Print.
  • Hunter, Shaunna E. Rev. of MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood. Library Journal 1 Aug. 2013: 82. Print.
  • Rev. of MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood. New Yorker 14 Oct. 2013: 113. Print.
  • McEuen, Paul L. "Science Fiction: A Post-Pandemic Wilderness." Rev. of MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood. Nature 22 Aug. 2013: 398–99. Print.
  • Seaman, Donna. Rev. of MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood. Booklist 1 June 2013: 30. Print.
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