Well, that was certainly… something.
I finished this novel over 24 hours ago and I’m still trying to collect my thoughts on it. Might as well start at the beginning. Be forewarned, there will be SPOILERS all over the place.
The story picks up right where “The Year of the Flood” left off. As Ren, Amanda, Toby, and Jimmy attempt to deal with the murderous Painballers, the Crakers approach and, due to their lack of knowledge and fear, help the Painballers slip their bonds and escape. Toby and the others return to the Gardeners/MaddAddamites’ cobb house with the Crakers in tow. Toby is reunited with Zeb, and her slight crush from the last novel blossoms into requited love. Meanwhile, Jimmy slips into a coma, and Toby becomes the new Craker storyteller, slipping on Jimmy’s red hat each evening to tell Zeb’s story – which Zeb relates in flashback to Toby himself. And while the humans and Crakers are adjusting to their new way of life together, the threat of the missing Painballers looms over their heads. And also, Zeb is looking for Adam, who it turns out is his brother and who hasn’t been seen since the great plague hit. And also also, some of the women are pregnant, possibly with Craker children (yup). And also also also, the pigoons are hanging around the cobb house and they hate the Painballers and want the humans to help them kill the Painballers, which the humans understand because the Crakers can talk telepathically to the pigoons. (More on that later.)
Yeah… so… it would appear that a lot happens in the book. But really, all of the action occurs very quickly and the majority of the book is devoted to Zeb’s back-story. Oh, and quite a lot of it also deals with Toby’s growing jealousy over her lover. She fears that he’s being unfaithful to her with one of the MaddAddamites, Swift Fox, and I hate hate HATED this whole storyline because it relegated an interesting female character who had agency and was strong and intelligent in the second book to being an insecure stereotype who questioned every word out of Zeb’s mouth and behaved irrationally. Whatever Atwood’s whole point was by assassinating Toby’s character in this manner was totally lost on me.
But let’s get back to the pigoons. This was by far my least favorite part of the trilogy, and quite frankly, the moment where the series went from rather plausible to totally outlandish. Up until the third book, I thought that the majority of the science and technology presented in the novels was something that could possibly one day be real: all the plastic surgery, the gene modifications, the spliced animals, the sprayguns, the bullet trains, even the plague seemed like they could honestly be a few decades away from actually happening. Hell, even the Crakers themselves didn’t seem too farfetched. But then it’s discovered that the pigoons and the Crakers can talk to each other with their minds and at that point I just sort of threw up my hands and said, “Ok, sure, WHATEVER.” That was the moment when the series went from science fiction to science fiction in my mind, and I realize that might not seem like a big distinction but it really changed everything for me.
While it was interesting to learn more about Zeb and Adam, this novel really didn’t need to be written. Atwood could have stopped with “The Year of the Flood” and that would have been fine. This novel didn’t advance the plot any and honestly had barely any plot itself, unless you consider the vague threat of the Painballers and their ultimate dispatching in ONE chapter (and we don’t even read about the action, it’s recounted by a Craker in his broken English) to be the main plot of the novel. The characters all felt like faded photocopies of themselves – Ren was one of the narrators of the second novel and she barely registered as a character in this one (and her basic storyline was that she was pregnant, which, UGH).
Would I recommend this trilogy? I would recommend reading the first two books if you love dystopian literature and Atwood’s writing. I would not recommend “MaddAddam” unless you’re a completionist who cannot bear to leave a series unfinished. I actually went back and downgraded my rating for this book after thinking about it. It almost feels like Atwood didn’t want to write a trilogy, and simply cranked this one out quickly to satisfy her readers or, maybe, her contract.
P.S. Dear Ms. Atwood – Maybe next time, don’t give the villains a name like “Painballers” because every time I read it, EVERY SINGLE TIME, I thought it said “PainTballers.”