Atwood closes her post-apocalyptic trilogy (Oryx and Crake, 2003; The Year of the Flood, 2009) with a study of a small camp of survivors, redolent with suggestions about how new-world mythologies are made.
The main narrator, Toby, is a gatherer of strays at MaddAddam, an enclave of survivors of the previous years’ plague and environmental collapse. Amanda was tormented by vicious “Painballers”; Snowman, the hero of Oryx and Crake, is recovering from a grotesque foot wound; and a small tribe of “Crakers,” genetically engineered humanoids, are on site as well. Atwood’s story moves in two directions. Looking backward, Toby’s love, Zeb, recalls the history of the scientists who set this odd new world in motion while greedy evangelists like his father clung to rapidly depleting oil and cash reserves. Looking forward, the MaddAddamites must police the compound for Painballers out for revenge. As with many post-apocalyptic tales, the past is much more interesting than the present: Zeb’s story is a cross sections of end-times North America, from Grand Guignol entertainments to pharmaceutical horrors, and Atwood weaves in some off-the-shelf contempt for casual sexism, consumerism and god-playing. In comparison, the closing confrontation between the MaddAddamites and Painballers is thin, though the alliances are provocative: The Crakers partner with large, genetically engineered pigs—pigoons—to help the surviving humans who unnaturally made them. In numerous interludes, Toby attempts to explain this world to the Crakers, and their dialogue, rife with miscommunications, is at once comic and strongly biblical in tone. Societies invent origin stories, Atwood suggests, by stripping off nuance for simplicity’s sake. But Atwood herself has taken care to layer this story with plenty of detail—and, like most post-apocalyptic novelists, closes out the story with just a touch of optimism.
By no means her finest work, but Atwood remains an expert thinker about human foibles and how they might play out on a grand scale.