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Oryx and Crake- A Book Review
I have recently found myself on a post-apocalyptic literature kick. It's done terrible things for my psyche. I see the end of the world on the horizon any time I read news stories that remotely remind me of events in one of the books I've read. I've contemplated developing an escape plan to the mountains and stocking up on non-perishables. Nevertheless, I keep reading. My favorites so far have been Oryx and Crake and its sister book, Year of the Flood. The author Margaret Atwood demonstrates nothing short of foreboding genius.
For post-apocalyptic literature to be really good, it has to be somewhat believable. Atwood achieves this in a chilling fashion. Set in the United States some 50 years from the present, corporations have taken over an overpopulated world riddled with climate induced disasters. Rising sea levels and other weather phenomena have changed the landscape. Those lucky enough to work for the corporations live in luxurious modules while the rest of the world scrapes by in disease infested pleeblands.
The book is presented from the point of view of Jimmy, or Snowman as he refers to himself. He and a group of genetically altered people called Crakers are (he thinks) the only survivors after an act of bio-terrorism wipes out the world's populations. Throughout the book, the story transitions between his fight to survive in the present on beach and the story of his past that ultimately leads to the explanation of how the world ended.
Jimmy grew up in a module where his father and mother worked on genetically altered pigs called pigoons. After his mother mysteriously disappears, Jimmy struggles through adolescence by befriending the mysterious Glen and faltering through a string a messy relationships with various girls. His mediocre grades get him into a failing fine arts college where he continues to fail at relationships and finding a meaning to his life. Upon graduation he finds work in advertising at a corporation where he still does not reach fulfillment.
One day, Glen, now known as Crake, appears and rescues Jimmy by offering him a lucrative job working with Crake in a special, top-secret project to design Blyss Plus pills that create ultimate sexual pleasure with no consequences and a species of perfect genetically engineered individuals dubbed Crakers. Crake tells Jimmy this is all part of plan to achieve everlasting life. Oryx, Crake's girlfriend he rescued from prostitution, is teaching the Crakers how to survive on Earth. Oryx and Jimmy fall in love and Jimmy finally begins to feel happiness. Unbeknownst to Jimmy, Crake has really invented a pill that causes a highly infectious disease that is meant to wipe out the population, minus Jimmy who has been secretly vaccinated and the Crakers who are immune. Crake believes this will end the destruction humans have wreaked on the planet.
In the post-apocalyptic nightmare, Jimmy is tormented by his past, haunted by Oryx, and unsure of how to maintain his role as the guardian of the Crakers who have been engineered not to believe in god, mate only when reproduction is necessary, but still sing the most beautiful songs Jimmy has ever heard.
Jimmy is the typical character you love to hate. He's left by his mother at a young age and never lives up to his father's expectations of becoming a scientific mastermind. Once he meets Crake he is constantly overshadowed by Crake's genius. He takes all of this underachievement and becomes the classic player who tells all the women he leaves he's incapable of love. This begins in high school and continues through college and into his career. His downward spiral ultimately leaves him depressed, drunk, and alone. Not until he begins working with Crake and falls in love with Oryx does he begin to dig himself out of his lifetime hole of self-pity. This is short lived, however.
While you only know about Crake from Jimmy's perspective, you learn a lot about him. At an early age he was fascinated the secret goings on of the corporations. Unlike Jimmy, he thought romantic involvement was a waste of time. His focus was on climbing to the top of the scientific ladder and actually impacting change. Unfortunately for mankind, this idea revolved around wiping the slate clean and starting over. Crake takes science to the extreme in his attempt to play god.
Despite his aversion to romance, Crake falls for Oryx. Once Jimmy meets her, he immediately falls, too. She is officially with Crake, but makes nightly secret visits to Jimmy's room and claims he is her true love. Jimmy is troubled by her past that has revolved around prostitution since she was a small girl, and the fact that she accepts it without the anger he has towards her former employers. Her role with the Crakers is clearly a version of mother earth, as she teaches them to respect animals and the world around them which is ironic considering the master plan behind the new species that involves destroying all humans.
Throughout this novel, Margaret Atwood manages to create a work that is both poetic and terrifying. The world she creates is full of the new in the form of strange genetic mutations, and the familiar demonstrated by the age old phenomena of human desire for power, love, and evasion of death. Her command of flashback keeps you completely entangled in two stories at once which basically means you couldn't put the book down if you wanted to.