From time to time, I've picked up books by Margaret Atwood, but the cover blurbs have never grabbed me. Jonah's a huge fan, though, so recently I've been feeling like I really should read something by her. Oryx and Crake actually sounded interesting, so I picked up a copy from the library.
I wasn't all that taken with it. There's plenty of interesting stuff going on, and it's not a bad book, but I didn't have the love for it I had kind of hoped to have.
It hit me when Snowman was giving his interior monologue about "toast" that that we're getting the story from the non-super's POV and I don't like him. It totally makes sense as a craft decision, of course, and he did grow on me by later in the book.
I wasn't really sold on him being a word person, though. I mean yeah, we get stuff like, "He'd developed a strangely tender feeling toward such words, as if they were children abandoned in the woods and it was his duty to rescue them" (p. 195, "Asperger's U."), but I just wasn't really feeling it.
I was glad when we found out about his work with self-help stuff because it explained why he kept thinking of that shit (which had no real purpose, though it made sense as stuff that would pervade his brain; I certainly empathize with that sort of occurrence).
When he killed Crake, I realized that the Craker mythology we had been seeing bits and pieces of... he had made it all up (we know that Oryx told them clever and wise Crake made them, but she says they didn't express any interest in pursuing the question further).
I found a lot of the ideas about humanity etc. v. interesting (see quotations below).
I have mixed feelings about the ending -- I wanted to know what was going to happen next, but it also made sense to leave it as it was. I think my biggest problem was with other humans showing up at all (though I should have been expecting it to some degree since he found a Russian on the CB radio) especially since it seemed like he had finally gotten himself put back together after all his bouts of nearly going insane and that things were finally gonna sort of get back on track (not that I have a problem with unhappy/ambiguous endings, this just seemed to gratuitously complicate the situation -- though there are probably essays on how this is a statement on the human condition).
Oh, and I was never entirely sold on Oryx. I could almost be sold on her perspective on all that had happened to her, but her quasi-broken-English just kept throwing me out of the story.
I'll probably read The Robber Bride, but I'm just not feeling all that excited about Atwood.
Crake made the bones of the Children of Crake out of the coral of the beach, and then he made their flesh out of a mango. But the Children of Oryx hatched out of an egg, a giant egg laid by Oryx herself. Actually she laid two eggs: one full of animals and birds and fish, and the other one full of words. But the egg full of words hatched first, and the Children of Crake had already been created by then, and they'd eaten up all the words because they were hungry, and so there were no words left over when the second egg hatched. And that is why the animals can't talk.
"What is toast?" says Snowman to himself, once they've run off. Toast is when you take a piece of bread --- What is bread? Bread is when you take some flour --- What is flour? We'll skip that part, it's too complicated. Bread is something you can eat, made from a ground-up plant and shaped like a stone. You cook it . . . Please, why do you cook it? Why don't you just eat the plant? Never mind that part --- Pay attention. You cook it, and then you cut it into slices, and you put a slice into a toaster, which is a metal box that heats up with electricity --- What is electricity? Don't worry about that. While the slice is in the toaster, you get out the butter --- butter is a yellow grease, made from the mammary glands of --- skip the butter. So, the toaster turns the slice of bread black on both sides with smoke coming out, and then this "toaster" shoots the slice up into the air, and it falls onto the floor . . .
"Forget it," says Snowman. "Let's try again." Toast was a pointless invention from the Dark Ages. Toast was an implement of torture that caused all those subjected to it to regurgitate in verbal form the sins and crimes of their past lives. Toast was a ritual item devoured by fetishists in the belief that it would enhance their kinetic and sexual powers. Toast cannot be explained by any rational means.
Toast is me.
I am toast.
Maybe this is the reason that these women arouse in Snowman not even the faintest stirrings of lust. It was the thumbprints of human imperfection that used to move him, the flaws in the design: the lopsided smile, the wart next to the navel, the mole, the bruise. These were the places he'd single out, putting his mouth on them. Was it consolation he'd had in mind, kissing the wound to make it better? There was always an element of melancholy involved in sex. After his indiscriminate adolescence he'd preferred sad women, delicate and breakable, women who'd been messed up and who needed him. He'd liked to comfort them, stroke them gently at first, reassure them. Make them happier, if only for a moment. Himself too, of course; that was the payoff. A grateful woman would go the extra mile.
But these new women are neither lopsided nor sad: they're placid, like animated statues. They leave him chilled.
In other words --- and up to a point, of course --- the less we eat, the more we fuck."
"How do you account for that?" said Jimmy.
"Imagination," said Crake. "Men can imagine their own deaths, can see them coming, and the mere thought of impending death acts like an aphrodisiac. A dog or a rabbit doesn't behave like that. Take birds --- in a lean season they cut down on the eggs, or they won't mate at all. They put their energy into staying alive themselves until times get better. But human beings hope they can stick their souls into someone else, some new version of themselves, and live forever."
"As a species we're doomed by hope, then?"
"You could call it hope. That, or desperation."
"But were doomed without hope, as well," said Jimmy.
"Only as individuals," said Crake cheerfully.
"Well, it sucks."
"Jimmy, grow up."
He'd developed a strangely tender feeling toward such words, as if they were children abandoned in the woods and it was his duty to rescue them.
-195 ("Asperger's U.")
"So, are the butterflies --- are they recent?" Jimmy asked after a while. The ones he was looking at had wings the size of pancakes and were shocking pink, and were clustering all over one of the purple shrubs.
"You mean, did they occur in nature or were they created by the hand of man? In other words, are they real or fake?"
"Mm," said Jimmy. He didn't want to get into the what is real thing with Crake.
"You know when women get their hair dyed or their teeth done? Or women get their tits enlarged?"
"After it happens, that's what they look like in real time. The process is no longer important."
"No way fake tits feel like real tits," said Jimmy, who thought he knew a thing or two about that.
"If you could tell they were fake," said Crake, "it was a bad job. These butterflies fly, they mate, they lay eggs, caterpillars come out."
"Mm," said Jimmy again.
"Let's suppose for the sake of argument," said Crake one evening, "that civilization as we know it gets destroyed. Want some popcorn?"
"Is that real butter?" said Jimmy.
"Nothing but the best at Watson-Crick," said Crake. "Once it's flattened, it could never be rebuilt."
"Because why? Got any salt?"
"Because all the available surface metals have already been mined," said Crake. "Without which, no iron age, no bronze age, to age of steel, and all the rest of it. There's metals farther down, but the advanced technology we need for extracting those would have been obliterated."
"It could be put back together," said Jimmy, chewing. It was so long since he'd tasted popcorn this good. "They'd still have the instructions."
"Actually not," said Crake. "It's not like the wheel, it's too complex now. Suppose the instructions survived, suppose there were any people left with the knowledge to read them. Those people would be few and far between, and they wouldn't have the tools. Remember, no electricity. Then once those people died, that would be it. They'd have no apprentices, they'd have no successors. Want a beer?"
"Is it cold?"
"All it takes," said Crake, "is the elimination of one generation. One generation of anything. Beetles, trees, microbes, scientists, speakers of French, whatever. Break the link in time between one generation and the next, and it's game over forever."
"Speaking of games," said Jimmy, "it's your move."
He should have been pleased by his success with these verbal fabrications, but instead he was depressed by it. The memos that came from above telling him he'd done a good job meant nothing to him because they'd been dictated by semi-literates; all they proved was that no one at AnooYoo was capable of appreciating how clever he had been. He came to understand why serial killers sent helpful clues to the police.
Clipped to the pocket was her name tag: ORYX BERISA. She'd chosen it herself from the list provided by Crake. She liked the idea of being a gentle water-conserving Easter African herbivore, but had been less pleased when told the animal she'd picked was extinct. Crake had needed to explain that this was the way things were done in Paradice.
-311 ("Crake in Love")
"Do they ever ask where they came from?" said Jimmy. "What they're doing here?" At that moment he couldn't have cared less, but he wanted to join the conversation so he could look at Oryx without being obvious.
"You don't get it," said Crake, in his you-are-a-moron voice. "That stuff's been edited out."
"Well, actually, they did ask," said Oryx. "Today they asked who made them."
"And I told them the truth. I said it was Crake." An admiring smile at Crake. Jimmy could have done without that. "I told them he was very clever and good."
"Did they ask who this Crake was?" said Crake. "Did they want to see him?"
"They didn't seem interested."
-311 ("Crake in Love")
"It's nothing. It's a piece of a bad dream that Crake is having."
They understood about dreaming, he knew that: they dreamed themselves. Crake hadn't been able to eliminate dreams. We're hard-wired for dreams, he'd said. He couldn't get rid of singing either. We're hard-wired for singing. Singing and dreaming were entwined.
"We knew we could call you, and you would hear us and come back."
Not Amen, then. Snowman.
Watch out for art, Crake used to say. As soon as they start doing art, we're in trouble. Symbolic thinking of any kind would signal downfall in Crake's view. Next they'd be inventing idols, and funerals, and grave goods, and the afterlife, and sin, and Linear B, and kings, and then slavery and war. Snowman longs to question them --- who first had the idea of making a reasonable facsimile of him, of Snowman, out of a jar lid and a mop? But that will have to wait.
Already the children are destroying the image they made of him reducing it to its component parts, which they plan to return to the beach. This is a teaching of Oryx, the women tell him: after a thing has been used, it must be given back to its place of origin. The picture of Snowman has done its work: now that the real Snowman is among them once more, there is no reason for the other, the less satisfactory one. Snowman finds it odd to see his erstwhile beard, his erstwhile head, travelling away piece-meal in the hands of the children. It's as if he himself has been torn apart and scattered.