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Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Book Summary
Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey- with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake- through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city- until powerful corperations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining. 

At once a story of apocalyptic endings and healing beginnings, Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake reads like a glimpse into a shattered mirror. The reader inhabits the troubled consciousness of Snowman/Jimmy, as he wanders through the empty wasteland of a world purged of humanity after the rapid spread of a contagious and fatal disease. Juxtaposing a dystopic future with an equally unfamiliar dystopic past, Atwood strands the disoriented reader in medias res, scattering fragments of contextualizing information like breadcrumbs for readers to follow and establish their bearings as they navigate their way through the many overlapping narratives. 

The book opens with a portrait of the seemingly sole human survivor, Snowman, living in the midst of a new genetically engineered race called the Children of Crake. Naked, innocent, and animalistic, the Children of Crake rely on Snowman to protect them and explain their existence. Snowman, a self-appointed prophet, constructs wild tales seeped in recognizable religious rhetoric, painting Crake as both benevolent God and original creator. Yet, as the stories unravel alongside Snowman's memories, both the reader and Snowman himself begin to question the truth, acquiring a haunting and sinister feeling that neither narrative is quite as it appears. 

As he searches for answers in the abandoned buildings and corpses scattered along his path, Snowman's self-created alter ego begins to bleed into his memories of a previous time and a previous self named Jimmy. Jimmy, hailing from a past still decades into our future, already inhabits a world in which casual genetic engineering over-runs almost every aspect of life, and cities have become inescapable compounds sealed off from the rest of the world. Disturbing reality television shows reminiscent of The Hunger Games abound alongside anti-aging products with horrifying and unadvertised side effects. As remnants of this past trickle into his present, and both progress toward a shocking conclusion. Jimmy attempts to come to terms with his mother's abandonment, his friendship with Crake, and his love affair with Oryx.

As usual, Margaret Atwood delivers a uniquely horrifying vision of the future, comparable with the worlds created by George Orwell's 1984 and H.G Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau. Yet, like most dystopic novels, the true horror of this story lies in its haunting resonance with the present, merely exaggerated to its logical and seemingly inevitable end. Atwood takes the reader's desire for a utopic world free from age, disease, and even the polarizing force of love, and subverts them by raising profound questions about what it means to be human. 

Ultimately suggesting that our mortality and our fallibility are essential to our humanity, Atwood paradoxically gives us hope for the future by revealing its potential bleakness. Well-written, insightful, and suspenseful, Oryx and Crake is a worthwhile and fascinating read, a promising first installment in a trilogy that leaves you wanting more.  

Reviewed by Miranda Wojciechowski

Book Information
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 3/30/2004
Pages: 416

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