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The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poemsThe St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poemsThe St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
Oryx and Crake
By Margaret Atwood

Anchor, 2004

Reviewed by Victor Giannini
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood is not a book you read with while curled up under your blanket in soft bedroom light. What begins as a spellbinding tale told at a luxurious pace quickly runs full speed into a examination of human potential unchecked, of horror and hope clawing at each others throats as they spiral into the abyss of the future. No, Oryx and Crake is not a book to read as you drift off to sleep, because it is sure to give you nightmares. Rather, this is a book to be read on your fire escape. It’s best to give yourself time to pause, stare out over the expanse of a teeming city, and marvel at how effortlessly Atwood will convince you that the very world you live in now will one day be overrun by pigoons and inherited by beautiful, purring, super-people.

Margaret Atwood effortlessly creates a future world where nightmarish companies play God, economic classes live in physically separated zones, and-- for better or for worse-- the government is gone. The book opens up with Snowman, once Jimmy, now the last true human being on earth. As Snowman reflects on his life and how exactly it corresponded with the extinction of the human race (at least as we know it), the reader is given a tour of a future where all the promises and holy grails of unregulated genetic science are free to dance across an increasingly inhuman world.
This is a world where pigoons, a hybrid of pig and human, are harvested for the extra sets of organs grown within them. Where wolvogs, creatures who look like the most agreeable puppies, are really attack beasts. Where giant living nodes of chicken flesh produce endless bulbs of meat for fast food. This is a world where the poor live in near anarchy and constant violence, and the rich live in sterilized bubble domes, under the constant watchful eye of the CorpSeCorp. Traditional government seems to be completely absent. In this world capitalism has hit its zenith, and corporations control the lives of their employees in their perfect, artificial world.

Of course, this is only the setting. A remarkably compelling setting, one so richly realized and uncomfortably plausible that it becomes very easy to fall into the heart of the story, the tale of three humans who played leading roles at humanity’s climax. These are Snowman, Oryx, and Crake.

Before he was left as the sole guardian and teacher of a new species of human being,  Snowman was an under-achieving artist in a future world. His best friend, Crake, is a genius who studies mankind with equal parts interest and disdain. If ignorance truly is bliss, then Crake is very unhappy. While Snowman is a painfully average artist, Crake rockets to success as the favored son of mega corporations by producing hybrid animals and radical gene therapy. Both Snowman and Crake are in love with Oryx, who may or may not be the strong willed child prostitute that they discovered on the internet at the age of fourteen.

As rich as the characters in Oryx and Crake are, their perspectives seem to become obscured by the epic events that unfold around them. A great deal of information is crammed into the text by the narrator as the personal histories of the three main characters are revealed. But this is a singular criticism. In the end, Atwood delivers a stunning (both in the beauty of the writing and the power of the content) novel  that imagines what might happen to the human race if science proceeds unchecked, what might happen to an ordinary person like Snowman. From uninspired artist in today's world to the god of a new race of humans, Snowman sees a most terrifying future.
VICTOR GIANNINI is a rum pounding, cat loving, artist/writer/skater. He's been free of cannabalism for a whole season, and things are looking good.  While probing the cosmic recesses of human perception, he's managed to get his art and writing in many publications, such as:  Ignition (IPPY Honored 2006), Italics Mine, Other Mag, 400words, 5-0 Skatezine, Thrash Compactor, Focus Skatemag, Beach Plums, Silverthought, Poor Choice, The East Hampton Star, Concrete Wave, and The Literary Bone.  Website:  www.doomescape.com.