I often myself so obsessed with an author that I hungrily read every work that author has written, looking for similarities and differences. I read Ernest Hemingway’s books in the order he wrote them. With others, like Ted Conover and Tim O’Brien, I started in the middle and branched out. Others I’m still working on: Haruki Murakami, Sarah Addison Allen, and Margaret Atwood, to name a few.
Which brings me to MaddAddam, the last installment in Atwood’s postapocalyptic trilogy of the same name. I’ve long considered the first book of the series, Oryx and Crake, as one of my top five favorite books of all time. It tosses the reader into a confusing world of genetic manipulation and dystopian horror, yet still manages to tell the poignant, heartbreaking tale of one of the last humans left on earth.
Unfortunately, MaddAddam fails to rank on my top five list—in fact, it doesn’t even come close. Although it continues the storyline developed in the trilogy’s first and second books, focusing on a group of human survivors who must coexist with and protect a bio-engineered humanoid species called the Crakers, the characters rang flat and failed to keep my interest. I continually confused several of them and felt disappointed that previously strong female characters devolved into weepy lovesickness, fugue states, and unabashed lust. I had been excited to hear that the creative protagonist of Oryx and Crake was making a reappearance, but I soon realized that he would have no real bearing on the story, nor would he ever return to the character that readers knew and loved.
To make matters worse, I really found myself flipping past pages every time the story devolved into reminiscence and backstory. Although this loosely (and too coincidentally) connected characters together, it made the book feel like a tour through the past, with the present just humming along tediously while it waited for us to catch up. With a slow pace that felt more like picking a scab than unraveling a well-wrapped gift, MaddAddam failed to deliver the characters, plot, or prose that I fell in love with in Oryx and Crake.
One recent development is that the MaddAddam trilogy will be developed into a television show for HBO, directed by Darren Aronofsky, who also directed Black Swan and Noah. Atwood herself will be a consulting producer on the show. In a recent interview, she quipped, “I think my role as a consultant is to stay alive until they finish it, so I can actually see it!” Even though I probably wouldn’t recommend reading MaddAddam (and probably not even the second book, Year of the Flood), I’m interested to see how Atwood’s speculative fiction plays out on screen.