Saturday, March 8, 2014

"MaddAddam" by Magaret Atwood

MaddAddam is the culmination of Atwood's trilogy that began with Oryx and Crake, a book I believe I read on my way to my first job interview nearly 10 years ago. MaddAddam culminates the story by following a small group of survivors living together after Crake wiped out most of humanity in the first novel. This third book picks up characters from the previous two, especially the second book--The Year of the Flood--and it also retraces events from the earlier novels from different perspectives.

Familiarity with the other novels is somewhat a two-edged sword. Though I've read both, I have very little memory of either, particularly the second (I appreciated that both novels were briefly recapped in summaries before the beginning of this book). So when events were retold or characters reappeared, I had a sense I should have been feeling "a-ha" moments of new understanding--instead, it was just a story. On the other hand, I could see where it might be dull to read a new book that is mostly a rehash of what already happened. In fact, most of the novel takes place in flashbacks as Zeb recalls his upbringing with his brother Adam.

In the present day setting of the novel, relatively little happens. Former God's Gardener Toby is living with the other human survivors. With them is Jimmy--Crake's friend from books 1 and 2--as well as the Crakers, simple-minded and pure human-like creations of Crake (also see books 1 and 2). The group is busy building up their compound and keeping themselves safe from things like the Pigoons (vicious pig hybrids) and Painballers (humans who had survived killing matches back in the day). But mostly the book follows the day-to-day, including Toby's burgeoning relationship with Zeb.

One area that particularly bothered me (spoiler alert): The book begins with Toby and others searching for Amanda, who has been captured and raped by the Painballers. They are reunited and discover themselves among the Crakers. The Crakers mate much like animals--they're aware when a female is in heat and they pursue (and are happily accepted by the females) accordingly. So, when the Crakers come upon Amanda and the other women, they (innocently) assume the women are open for procreation and have sex with them. We learn at the end of the novel that Amanda, Ren, and Lotis Blue were impregnated from that evening with the Crakers.

Okay, so these women are raped by the Crakers. Yes, the human-like beings had no malicious intent, but does that change what happened to the women? Yet the fact or implications of such rape are never mentioned. The women seem totally cool with it--yes, Amanda's emotionally troubled, but it's made clear that solely because of what the Painballers did. The women would have been fighting and protesting--something else that seems rather hurried over since everything appears to happen in seconds, and I really don't know how that could work--and (not to be crude) the Crakers have huge penises, yet it's dismissed as a simple misunderstanding. The women seem equally and inexplicably cool with having the children as well. I'm not saying the Crakers should have been punished or anything, but for such events to be glossed over seemed problematic.

Otherwise, I thought the most interesting part of the novel was the Crakers and their growing understanding of the world they've been created in to. The book wasn't nearly as interesting as Oryx and Crake, but it concludes the trilogy appropriately.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

"The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion

Have you see that movie about the straight-laced guy whose world gets turned upside down by an unexpected, quirky woman? You know, he's stuck in his ways--life in a rut. Has very particular ideas of where his life's headed. And then he meets her--and she's so different from him. She's wild and unrestrained (but also a little sad inside), and suddenly he's doing things he never would have done before, and, even more shockingly, he's enjoying it. You know, that movie?

Okay, so "manic pixie dream girl" is such a common trope that we have a well-known phrase for it. We see it time and again in movies, TV, and literature, but apparently it doesn't get old. Because it's the plot for The Rosie Project.

The fact that the plot of The Rosie Project has been done a thousand times before doesn't make the book bad, but it also makes it largely unremarkable and expected. For that reason, I'm surprised at the praise the novel has received, as, for me, it was a very run-of-the-mill story. I suppose the "twist" that's supposed to make Simsion's novel different is that the protagonist Don is not your average straight-lacer. Instead, he's an autistic/Asperger's-type professor. But even that seems derivative. After all, I've read plenty of novels with a similar narrator, and like those novels, Don is also of the autistic genius trope: he's great with math and science, remembers minute details, takes life literally, is a slave to routine, and is poor in social situations.

He's still a more engaging character than the "dream girl," Rosie. We're told throughout the novel about her anger towards men, presumably because of her poor relationship with her stepfather. But we get few details about that relationship, and in the end, her anger with him seems boiled down to the fact that he failed to take her to Disney World.

As a rom-com, The Rosie Project is cute and sweet with appropriate character sidekicks and relationship twists. It just isn't great reading.

Stray thoughts
- This is the second book in a row I've read that casually takes place in Australia. It's made my America-normativity abundantly clear. I just assumed both this and The Husband's Secret took place in the U.S. and was suddenly surprised when a stray fact indicated otherwise.