Paquita Maria Sanchez's Reviews > The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
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Feb 02, 15

bookshelves: literature

Throughout my adult life, every time I've set to fretting about something, if I have ever been composed of the proper combination of melancholy, apathy, and bitters to warrant the interest of my hovering mother, in a state of exasperation she always runs a line on me about perspective, about humbling myself by pondering the countless masses of people in the world who have it so much worse than me; that I should always feel grateful, and that thinking otherwise is simply being small-minded and self-obsessed. Though I agree with her in spirit, I am prone to try and win an argument for the sake of it (bad habit?), and always retort with something along the lines of "yes, let us follow that logic to its conclusion: there is only one, most saddest little person who has it the worst of all in the whole wide world throughout all of time, and only he or she is deserving of coming face-to-face with his or her reality, and finding it regrettable and sadness-worthy." This is, of course, not what she meant, but the conversation (which we have had a zillion times over the years, and which always concludes with two sets of hands in the air) always leaves me thinking about what that actual, worst-case-scenario could be. I think I have cracked it, folks: it is being a female in a post-apocalyptic scenario.

Of course, everyone has it rough when left to fight for basic survival in a wasteland after being pampered and defeated by the tough-loving arms of a convenience-based, desire-inventing, force-feeding, complex society for all of their lives. Well, most everyone. Though I make fun of them for their extreme lifestyles today, some of my old buddies who turned to some mutation of a freegan, survivalist mentality and started living in improvised homes in various woodland areas would be the first people I would actively seek out if the shit really went down and I had somehow managed to survive the initial death-move. You know, the folks who actually know how to build a fire with sticks and leaves, and can tell you which berries and mushrooms are poisonous rather than edible? "Hey, guys. It's been awhile. Sorry I cracked all those 'hippie militia' jokes about you. Heh."

Not fun for anyone, that whole "End of the World' thing, but man does having ladybits ever make shit worse. Not only are you shake-down-able, potentially threatening, and edible to the surviving crazies with nothing left to lose and absolutely no laws or fearful penalties or even mores governing their actions whatsoever, you are also, ummm, do I use a euphemism here? You're fuckable. Forcibly. As are men, naturally, but the threat to females is more visceral as the gender unfortunately oft-considered to be inferior, subservient, weaker, breakable, etc, particularly in the already deteriorated, woman-munching dystopia presented here before the mass deaths begin. I do not scoff at the plot twist in 28 Days Later, I find it probable. I don't judge the Man's wife in The Road for her decision to wander out into the snowstorm, I sympathize with her. The women in The Year of the Flood have it so much worse, too. Though there are elements of survival-y empowered female inspiration here, they are gratuitously punctuated by personal violations which would send a shiver down von Trier's spine.

Even with gender aside, one of the recurrent nightmare themes in post-apocalyptic tales is that every human being you encounter you must fear, though your initial response may be "A human! To survive with! To communicate with! Shit, I'll even talk to him about football if it means I get to use my vocal chords!" This is ill-advised. Approach with caution. And a gun if you have one, because for some reason these post-apocalyptic tales seem to consistently contain the obstacle of a severe shortage of guns considering the limited number of surviving humans, which is unfathomable to me as an American who has spent the majority of her life in Oklahoma and Texas. In this novel, of course, that is covered by the fact that the Totalitarian Corporate Regime in thinly-veiled control of society has done massive sweeps and disarmed almost all of its citizenry decades before "The Year of the Flood", The Flood being the genetically-engineered global pandemic which is the foundation of this story.

Sorry, I keep deviating from the trail, here. Being a woman on a decimated planet sucks, and that fact is one of the more glaring themes of this, the second book in what is to become Atwood's "MaddAddam Trilogy." To highlight this point, the story is told primarily from the perspective of two female survivors, women who had seen firsthand some of the scariest sides of power mixed with violence mixed with sexuality even before the world completely fell apart. I won't even go into why the human race was for the most part forcibly brought to extinction, as this is covered in the first novel, Oryx and Crake, told through the eyes of one of the main male characters who believes himself to be the remaining human on the ruins of this planet, and relates the tale of how he came to be so through a series of flashbacks. Let's just say that the fact that the girl you love and pay to bang has started banging your hotter, more sexually experienced, alcoholic "bad-boy" friend without making him pay for it may not be the best reason to...lash out on others,'re an asshole, Gene or Crake or whatever the fu...uh, yeah, that book's pretty good too, so you should just read it.

Themes also addressed in both novels are the rape of the earth by technological advancement, disregard of various animal species and the almost sexualized desire for massive quantities of their flesh as meals and fancy clothes to the point of wiping them out completely and destroying their habitats (even the strippers and prostitutes in the novel wear bird, lizard, and other animal costumes as a rule, just for one example), the potential threats and miracles behind gene-splicing and other scientific attempts to 'play god', the role (or lack thereof) of spirituality in rising above ravenous earthly desires, and the overwhelming and ever-increasing threat that is the governing powers of large corporations. It's the whole "Is the human race a parasite the earth will one day cure itself of? Should some human come around and maybe help the earth along in that regard?" argument. As this novel is what Atwood refers to as "speculative fiction" rather than some completely improbable sci-fi scenario, her hand offers up a light pat rather than a shove; she seems less preachy, and more questioning. Ever the Justitia, she asks rather than says, speculates rather than feigning the prophet, weighs it all in the scales while leaving each side swinging up, down, up, down like the ticking of a pendulum. This is one of the things that I particularly love about Atwood.

There is a final installment which as of now has no release date. The first two have ended--as installments are wont to do--with cliffhangers. I guess what I am feeling right now is the same thing that made me have to work until 4am at my old bookstore job just so those asshole kids could get their Harry Potter books the very second they came out. I feel almost as impatient for the next book as I do for the next season of Dexter. Damn you authors of serialized things and their shocking, open-ended finales! Also, good job!
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