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Alternative Culture Magazine

The End of Fiction

a review of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake

--review by Nowick Gray

Margaret Atwood’s 2003 novel Oryx and Crake hit me like a revelation. I had just cleaned out my remaining fiction collection before putting my belongings in storage for a six-month trip. Some were obviously talented writers, like Carson McCullers and Flann O’Brien; it was just that I could no longer find any relevance in the content of their work. Yes, I suppose, the human condition and so on--but I had lately become too jaded about that subject by a steady diet of bad news from Internet alternative media outlets, where the available news is even worse than it appears on the mainstream outlets. At least at the New York Times and Washington Post you still get this vision of the world as the war-mongering US administration sees it, a struggle between good and evil. When you look behind the scenes through the independent lenses of the alternative media on the Internet, you see that the “good guys” are just as bad as the “bad guys”--in fact, more often than not, the “bad guys” (e.g., CIA asset-for-life Osama Bin Laden) are simply paid by the “good guys” to play the part, sustaining the masquerade (mass charade) into an endless war-economy-fueled future. “Endless” like the Third Reich, that is, or the previous empires of Britain, Rome, Genghis Khan…

But enough of my editorializing. Take it as an introduction to the present-future world of Oryx and Crake, where we also see our desperately oversecured world coming to ruin out of the “best intentions” of genetic and social engineering, and psychological and political manipulation. Now given all of that “reality” laid on far thicker than any present-day newsprint dares, Atwood proceeds to charge the narrative with a full dose of “the human condition” in personal and emotional terms, as only a talented novelist can. The hero, “Snowman,” leads us through not only the labyrinth of the blasted future, but also of his personal past, with his connections to the characters Oryx and Crake, who prove so instrumental in the unfolding of world events. And likewise into this most dark and pessimistic rendering of the possible/probable, Atwood redeems our apocalyptic preview with a sharply ironic Canadian wit and implied wisdom. Her use of language is masterful in its mirroring the genetic splicing and dicing of flora and fauna, in capturing both the jargon of the new Orwellian “doublespeak” and the nuances of an original word-crafter. At the same time her prose is alluringly, compellingly simple, as Snowman’s tumbled shelves of linguistic learning surface in a “brave new world” of “Children of Crake” where myth and humor alike are unknown.

I don’t yet know as of this writing what else Margaret Atwood may have written; but after Oryx and Crake I can’t imagine what its content might consist of. On the other hand, I’ve already begun to read my next beach book, Clive Cussler’s Atlantis Found. Maybe once you have passed the gates of the media gatekeepers into the realm of speculative fiction and nonfiction, the truths of fiction and nonfiction start to merge and it hardly servers to keep the boundary distinct any longer.

In a world where wars can be fought on the basis of provable lies, and continued even after those lies are exposed, then writers can write any damn thing they please and it hardly matters. What matters is that the narrative holds together. When the narrative guiding world events falls apart, the world falls apart. It is then (it is still now) that a new narrative must be created to take its place. If that new narrative is coherent, and compelling, has the ring of truth, and demands no proving but the test of its taste in our mouths as we say or see the words, then that is the best that a writer can do to redeem our failing human spirits and lift us into the light of common understanding. If the story’s ending is bleak, so be it; even the Bible has no chapter after its final Revelations, alias Apocalypse. At least we go, go out or go on, knowing truth as best we can. Thank you, Margaret Atwood, for doing that best.

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