MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

MaddAddam
MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m generally fairly paranoid about the internet. This is why I use a pseudonym when I’m here and why I avoid posting identifying photographs of myself, my spouse, and my children. And ever since the revelations about the NSA’s enhanced domestic spying abilities (which we can be sure they’re not using because they promise us so sincerely they aren’t), I’ve been perhaps not more paranoid but at least more aware of the vulnerability of writing things over the internet and talking on the phone.

But reading MaddAddam heightens my paranoia to the point that I hesitate when I go to write a blog post or log into my e-mail. Obviously this doesn’t stop me from online communication—I’m not ready to go full-on God’s Gardeners (yet)—I just feel more anxious about it.

While reading this book, I’ve been asking myself more often than usual, “Why do I blog anyway? Do I really want to share this much about my inner life even it’s not really all that top-secret and my name’s not attached to it?” I’ve also spent the reading of this book shadowed by a vague feeling that I’ve done something wrong. When I notice this feeling, I wonder if maybe I ought not to read dystopian novels.

The trouble with the MaddAddam trilogy is that it’s just a little step down a side road from where we are now. Atwood did this intentionally. She takes the worst fears of both the left and the right and makes them come true. Everything in the book—from lab-created meat to the commoditizing of our personal information (and even our genes) to the blanket outlawing of firearms to an entirely privatized military and domestic police force—is something that’s either already happening or could easily happen a step or two from where we are now. It makes Atwood’s world that much more realistic. And scary. And hopeless.

While I enjoyed MaddAddam, I liked it less less than I did The Year of the Flood. The Year of the Flood is in some ways simpler: it’s the story of a screwed-up world and a group of people who’ve found a way of living that bypasses the screwed-upedness. Even though I knew all along that it would not end well, there seemed to be a sense of hope. The Waterless Flood was coming, but there was a formula for surviving it. Plus, I relate to separatists.

MaddAddam is not hopeful. I suppose the ending could be perceived as hopeful, but I don’t really see it that way. It just seems kind of depressing that everything really is left up to chance and tribalism in the end anyway.

In addition to feeling a little depressed by the hopelessness, I also found the small-world coincidences in MaddAddam a little unrealistic. People meet and think they’re strangers, but it turns out they went to high school together or something. I didn’t quite buy that the only people who’d survive the flood would be people who already knew each other. These didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, though.

Maybe I just enjoy feeling depressed and paranoid.

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