Friday, July 24, 2009

Oryx and Crake

I recently finished Margaret Atwood's Oryx & Crake. I had found A Handmaid's Tale interesting but didn't care for Cat's Eye. However, I'd heard a lot of good things about O&C, and then I found it in hardback for 25¢ at a garage sale. Ultimately, I was disappointed.


The book centers around the friendship between the narrator and his friend Crake. Their friendship felt like a retread to me. Imagine, if you will, two boys growing up together. One, the narrator, is easily led by his friend. The friend is a genius, or at least has a strong sense of his own destiny. The narrator feels dumb by comparison, not only to his friend but to his privileged milieu, but he isn't stupid, and he is at least verbally skilled. (This makes it much easier for him to narrate cogently later on.) However, he's cast/casts himself in the sidekick role. They may compete for the love of a woman. Eventually, after the friend does great and/or terrible things and is dead, the narrator is left to carry on, bereft. Sound familiar? This territory was already explored brilliantly in A Prayer for Owen Meany - as well as a lot of other works. ("Burning Chrome" by William Gibson comes to mind, although it doesn't map across all the details.) There's nothing wrong with this trope, but it results in a lot less originality than I'd expected.

My other issue comes in at the very end, and this is where I have a real spoiler: The book has a non-ending. The narrator finds out other people are alive and could be a threat to the creations of Crake. As we leave him, he is trying to decide whether to kill them or what.

The first time I read that kind of ending, back in middle school, I thought it was pretty clever. By now, I've lost my tolerance. While a writer doesn't have to wrap everything up in a bow, this kind of ending suggests to me that the writer doesn't know how to end it - particularly if it comes after a traditional narrative structure. (If the author has been telling a story in a very different way from the get-go, like in Robert BolaƱo's 2666, you're not set up to expect a classic denouement.) I got to the end and thought, really? I would have bet you a pony halfway through through that the narrator would find other humans, so his discovery wasn't much of a surprise. And I don't even have a pony. For that matter, it was evident early on that Oryx, the narrator's lover, was a point of contention between the two men. This isn't a work of great subtlety.

I can't really recommend it, unless you're a big Atwood fan - but then you've already read it.

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