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Margaret Atwood
Nan A. Talese / Doubleday / Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-385-52878-8
Publication Date: 09-03-2013
400 Pages; $27.95

Date Reviewed: 10-25-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  Science Fiction   General Fiction  Fantasy

My generation was raised on visions of a hard-edged apocalypse. Whether you're talking about Panic in the Year Zero, Doctor Strangelove, or On the Beach, we all knew that the end would take may two or three hours, tops. If we could just sit still under our school desks, we'd be shoo-ins for the afterlife.

But that end need not arrive in a blinding flash. As Margaret Atwood has been playing it over the course of 'Oryx & Crake,' 'After the Flood' and now in the conclusion to her triptych, 'MaddAddam,' the end is pretty much here already. All the pieces are in place, and more than a few are falling. But leave it to Margaret Atwood to make it terrifically funny, engagingly fun and thought-provokingly grim, all at once, as she gives us a guided tour of our souls, turned inside-out and transformed into the earth of the near and not-so-near future.

Atwood's triptych is cunningly constructed. The first two books offer wildly different perspectives of the same (end) times, and end up arriving at the same cliffhanger. As 'MaddAddam' begins, a cultural clash based on simple ignorance, indeed, even a genetically engineered inability to comprehend human motives, unfolds. In the aftermath, escapes are made and lives are saved, but at a price. Zeb reveals his story and sets out on a quest. These are the final days, and you'll have to keep an ear out for the whimper.

Atwood is herself something of a mad scientist who starts her experiments by re-inventing storytelling from the words up. It's a delight to read her pixilated prose. 'MaddAddam' offers readers just about any sort of narrative prose you can imagine, from mythic, precise stories of gods who once walked as men, to here-and-now-love stories, to raunchy, hilarious satire, and lots of it. Whatever note Atwood is going for, she seems to hit it with precision. 'MaddAddam' serves up Atwood's myriad prose skills at her most diverse and inventive.

But, as with all narrative, no matter how grand and entertaining the prose, it's necessary that we have characters we can care about, and here's another place where 'MaddAddam' really delivers. Zeb, Toby, Jimmy, Adam, and the rest of Atwood's end-of-the world gang really come to life as she ties together all the strings of her plots and reveals just who they are by showing where they came from. Zeb gets most of the time here, and it's clear that Atwood is having a blast. He's a very practical guy in very impractical times, part of a species that has the unique experience of knowing it is on the way to extinction and having met, even created its successors. And those successors — the Crakers — also get a lot of attention here. Atwood's vision of them is sweet and disturbing — a box of contradictions that is ultimately thought-provoking and engaging.

Atwood's prose and her characters are intimately entwined with her plotting. She is, after all, bringing about the end, and intent on having one hell of a good time doing so. The revelations in 'MaddAddam' are wild enough to smack readers upside the head while seeming perfectly in line with the relative craziness that has got us here. But for all the wild inventiveness, it's not hard to just look around and see that Atwood has not gone so far afield as we might assume. In fact, by the time you finish 'MaddAddam,' those who can remember duck and cover may feel a bit nostalgic for that simpler, kinder time, for an end that comes with a bang, not a whimper.

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