Friday, October 10, 2014

MADDADDAM – MARGARET ATWOOD

I read as fast as I could to finish this creepy dystopian trilogy. Freakish, horrifying, disgusting, and so great! Actually, it all seemed somewhat plausible also, in a not-too-distant future. I'm a little sorry to be finished. I did have a “walking dead” type of feeling with this one. Although, not with zombies. The first two books covered corporate greed taking over the world, total rape of the environment, degradation of all religion and culture, and science run amok, all combining to culminate in the almost complete devastation of the human race.

Shall we move on? A core group of survivors made up of God's Gardeners and Maddaddamites band together, lead by Toby and Zeb from The Year of the Flood, in survival mode. How they try to survive is what gave me the fighting zombies feeling. While being reunited with Jimmy and his band of Crakers, they also must contend with strange weather, food scarcity, aggressive genetically altered animals, and avoid evil “painballers” who were corporate prisoners completely hardened into roving evil thugs.

As with the first two books there is plenty of backstory. I was both shocked and enthralled to find out that Zeb and Adam One from The Year of the Flood had been half brothers. Their father, before the flood, had been a clergyman whose sermons supported the corporations, revered the petroleum industry, and reviled the ecologists. The boys had hacked into their fathers accounts and emptied them. Knowing he was politically connected they had to separate and go into hiding. Zeb became Mad Adam and his brother Adam One. When it was safer they had reunited and founded God's Gardeners.

The survivors create a compound, but it is exceedingly hard to find and grow enough food and to stave off animals. Search parties need to look for other people, Jimmy, who keeps the Crakers in line is sick and may not live. So many problems! It occurs to Toby that their hope for survival may lie with the Crakers and she takes over their teaching. They have limited abilities to understand and so she begins her lessons through fables and myths. They must learn language, writing, and some form of history. Is humanity as we know it dead? Can a new society emerge, or will humans be replaced by artificial people? Even bigger than that is will the planet support life at all?

I have thought about watching the HBO movies based on these books, but I am afraid.


THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD – MARGARET ATWOOD

I rushed on to read this... what, companion maybe, to Oryx and Crake? It takes place at the same time so it is not a sequel. Anyway I was not disappointed. Atwood continues to say that what she puts in her novels are things that could happen or already have. Well, that's scary reading this trilogy! Once again Atwood begins her story at the end, after the “Flood” and proceeds to go backwards into the years prior. We once again see the strange gene-spliced creatures and the devastation. We begin this book with two women, one holed up in a sex club where she had been working, and one locked inside a spa.

This time however, instead of flashing back to look at the lives of the elite, the story resides in the Pleeblands, the communities outside of corporate protection, a land filled with sexual exploitation, lawlessness, hunger, and peril. It is painted truly as a scary place to live. Yet some people are there by choice. Those who see what might be coming, and those rebelling against the artificial protected societies. Oryx, Crake, and Jimmy are seen by the reader as background characters.

Twenty-five years before the plague, God's Gardeners are an eco-religious simple living group trying to stay under the radar of trouble, but preparing how they will survive when the end comes. They have predicted a catastrophe called “The Waterless Flood” coming and are dedicated to preserving as much healthy food and animal life as they can. Significant members of the Gardeners are called Adams and Eves followed by numbers. They are mostly people with scientific and medical knowledge and experience who have escaped from the corporations. The leader is Adam One and Eve Six is the alchemist/healer person. We also find in this book Zeb or Mad Adam that will serve to be the purpose of book three of the trilogy.

As the years count down (or up, or back?) we see the lives of Ren and Toby evolve via two distinctly different paths which are in themselves wonderfully enthralling stories. Also, we get to see the organization of the Gardeners which is very religious and includes doctrine, hymns, and sermons. The corporations own all intelligence, science, and math and rule the Pleeblands with paid troops of thugs and fear. By the time we get to the “Waterless Flood” we are left with the nuclear group that will survive and try to start a new civilization.


The scariest thing in the book? Giant brightly colored pigs with human brain tissue that can think, calculate, and fight back. (shiver) Oh, that and the huge blue genitalia of the male Crakers (sorry).

ORYX AND CRAKE – MARGARET ATWOOD

I was rereading this in late December (I first read it in 2003) so I could proceed to The year of the Flood and not be utterly lost. However, my mom was very sick and I forgot to finish my impressions. Just now getting back to my notes about this wonderful dystopian lit, although I don't think that is what Atwood calls her work. She seems to stick more to calling it “speculative fiction” writing what she truly thinks might happen to our world. With corporations running most countries, genetic altering and scientific experimentation going unfettered, it is hard not to fear outcomes such as she points to in her work.

In Oryx and Crake we follow the narrator called Snowman who believes he may be the only truly human survivor of a virus that has wiped out humans leaving behind all manner of strange genetically spliced animals and a tribe of human-like beings called Crakers. Of course, Snowman is lonely and despondent but he also sees himself as the caretaker of the Crakers who see him as some kind of deity. He tells them stories of a fictional “Oryx and Crake” to try to teach them things and in an attempt keep them safe. They have a simple intelligence and he needs some way to control them so he invents for them legends and ritual.

The book begins somewhat like many post-apocalyptic novels with destroyed buildings, cities under water, trashed technology everywhere, gutted computers, broken cars, nothing working, dust, dirt, danger...

While going on supply forages the reader sees, through Snowman's flash-backs, the world before the catastrophe. Terrible misery, violence, and poverty were obstacles for those who live out in the unregulated “pleeblands” while others lived protected by the gated corporation communities for which they worked. Families like Snowman's lived protected from the outside and the children went to specific exclusive schools. Snowman was then called Jimmy and he lived a life of privilege, playing video games, smoking weed, investigating pornography and violence from the safety of his and his best friend's home. Jimmy's best friend Glenn, nicknamed Crake, became a renowned geneticist evolving into a demented scientific genius. The world fell apart. A plague (planned) was unleashed and began to kill off all the humans of which only a select few had the antidote. Jimmy and Glenn both loved the same strange genetically altered female, Oryx which lead to murder/suicide with Jimmy/Snowman being the lone survivor. To the Crakers Snowman paints Oryx and Crake as loving saviors and caretakers but to the reader he shows their warped roles in bringing the world to its sad end.

Dark stuff, no? Yes, but if you are a lover of the post-apocalyptic genre this trilogy is a great one. I have met some who thought it too weird, dirty, or nasty. But those of us who love it, will read it again willingly. I have already read the next two books and must blog about them, so this review cannot take too long! Go for it and if you are buying your own copy try to find one with the superb artwork of Hieronymous Bosch's “The Garden of Earthly Delights” or Cranach the Elder's “The Fall” for you will want to keep it and you will want the beauty.


THE STORYTELLER – JODI PICOULT

Oh my, I haven't read a Picoult book for a while! I had forgotten how she can twist a plot and turn a phrase to simply make your hair stand on end and take your breath away. Once I cracked this one open I did not want to put it down and when made to, I couldn't wait to pick it up again. In a way this book reminded me of Yan Martel's Beatrice and Virgil (a highly recommended book) which is also a story cloaked within another story with shades of WW II Holocaust thrown in designed to make the reader be horrified and mesmerized at the same time.

Sage Singer has followed a family tradition of being an excellent baker. At only 25, she lives fairly reclusive following an accident that disfigured her face and killed her mother. Her weekly visits to her grief support group help and it is there she befriends an older gentleman who also frequents the bakery where she works. Josef Weber always orders the same thing which he shares with his beloved dachshund and when he and Sage begin to converse she learns of his feelings of loss since the death of his wife. He has lived in their town for over 50 years, is a beloved retired high school teacher and a much-respected neighborhood volunteer. Sage enjoys Josef's company and his stories until the day he asks her to help him die.

Sage makes it clear that she will not ever participate in any such thing, pointing out moral and legal issues. She tries to distance herself from him. Not one to give up, Josef persists. He continues seeking her out and talking to her, and then he indicates that when she knows who he really is she will desire to help him. Most readers who have retained any history will know where he is trying to go with his stories. As his stories progress the darkness builds, the fear permeates every new chapter, and Sage's heart begins to ache not just for herself anymore.


Throw into this scenario the fact that Sage has a close relationship with her grandmother, Minka who is a Holocaust survivor and a great storyteller (who may or may not have known Josef), her boss is a former hippie-type nun, and her lover is a married funeral director! Enter the ever useful Department of Justice NAZI-hunter agent for a love interest and what else could a reader want I ask you? 

The stories are all so intricately woven, creating a beautiful webbed network for the reader to unwind. Questions arise as one reads this book, some of which may have no true answers. What is real evil? What is it that creates an evil person? What would one do to protect family? What entails forgiveness? Who can or should be forgiven? Who has the right to forgive, and who does not? Are there truly totally evil people? Can evil people be redeemed?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

THE BLUE BOTTE CLUB – PENELOPE J. STOKES

I read madly to finish my book club book for Monday because I have another one due next Tuesday and I need more time. Yikes! How do I let that happen? 

My friends know I have always had difficulty with fiction books specifically written for “inspiration” and this was of that genre so you can guess my reluctance. My reasons for staying shy of the genre are the usual, contrived plot, controlled vocabulary, too predictable etc. That is not to say I never recommend them or say they are bad, just not my cup-of-tea.

That being said, this was better than most of the genre that I have tasted. On Christmas Eve in 1929 four young girls place written dreams and plans for their future into a blue bottle. They make a pact to forever be best friends and place the bottle on a rafter in the attic of one of their homes. Sixty five years later that bottle is found upon the demolition of that house. Brendan Delaney, a local newscaster, takes the bottle on a quest to find the four girls, now octogenarians, to see if their lives turned out as they wished and hoped. The plot was very intricate and sometimes I got lost thinking about how Brendan got places so fast and easily? She had to go from one side of the country to the complete opposite, then north, and home again in a matter of days!

Of course, none of the girls got exactly what they wanted, and all of them had to live through many tribulations. They became adults during the Great Depression and during a time when women did not do the things these girls wanted to do such as go off to be a social worker, move to NYC to become an artist, take off for Hollywood and become an actor. Only one wanted to stay home, marry her school sweet-heart, and have a lot of babies, which she didn't get to do.

Truthfully, I much enjoyed each of the women's stories. It is my opinion however, that the best story is that of Adora Archer, the preacher's daughter who ran away to Hollywood. She ended up trying to climb the acting ladder too quickly by getting involved with a director, ending up pregnant, homeless, and jobless. When she turned to her family for forgiveness they proclaimed her dead and had a funeral. That is the only part of her story that didn't feel true to me. The author did spend a lot of time showing the reader the hypocrisy of the Archer's church as one pandering to the wealthy and turning away the needy, but turning away your own daughter, to me felt off. 

My second favorite was the girl who fled to the nunnery to escape her burgeoning family who ends up staying. She actually is the closest one to meet her dreams as she does become an artist and famous, just not via the avenue she sought.

Even though I liked all of the four life-stories, I did feel like the second half of the book got too preachy. Inside my head I felt like, “OK, I get it already!” But I also think people who love Christian fiction expect that and may look forward to it in their stories.

Sometimes I did the silent eye-roll when things got tied up too neatly, but I loved the four lives being so different and the convolution of each girl's path. I got the warm fuzzy “good-people-doing-good-because-of-their-religion” feeling via twisted life tales years ago when reading Billie Letts' books such as The Honk and Holler Opening Soon and Where the Heart Is, which I prefer – if that makes any sense to you, but if you are a female CF reader I would not pass this one by. It is not a guy book at all though and Letts' books can be enjoyed by all.