BOOK REVIEW: Religion and Dystopia in Atwood’s THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD

The Year of the Flood (MaddAddam Trilogy, #2)The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sequel to Oryx and Crake (and the 2nd book in the newly-dubbed MaddAddam Trilogy), The Year of the Flood is a better book, in my opinion, than the series opener. The story is told through the eyes of two women, Ren and Toby, who are once and future members of an eco-cult called God’s Gardeners. Ren grows up in the cult after her mom leaves one of the gated pharmaceutical communities that control the world. Her narrative is first person and traces her life from an impressionable child to tough adulthood. Toby’s narrative is in third person, and she initially becomes a Gardener to escape a dire circumstance. Each of their contrasting sections is short and they end on a cliff hanger moments. Through these fragments, you get a different glimpse into the dystopian future Atwood’s created, with its Corporate structure and science gone amok. Interspersed are sermons and hymns from the cult. A warning: the book is very dark, even grim-dark. Atwood doesn’t shy from describing the horrors these two very different, and differently strong women face. A criticism: I found it hard to believe one major plot point which I won’t spoil. The Year of the Flood also reminded me of Octavia Butler’s Parable series, in the use of religion and dystopian themes.

MUSES: The return of the mystical side of Natalie Merchant

The first show I went to at DC’s famed 9:30 Club, back when it was at 9th and F Street, was 10,000 Maniacs. They had just released their major label debut, The Wishing Chair. The front woman, Natalie Merchant, was a triple-threat, as they say in show business lingo. She had a lilting, beautiful voice; wrote intelligent lyrics about serious subjects; and was visually arresting. And by “visually arresting,” I don’t mean she was a babe. I mean her gloriously oddball stage person. The performance I saw back in 1985 featured her trademark spinning, on-stage costume changes involving numerous shawls and scarves, and using her long hair as a prop. In-between song, instead of banter, she would sing a cappella fragments of old folk songs. And in souped up jam session, she ‘sang’ impromptu lyrics from Yamyatin’s We.

Natalie

She became a star on the next album, In My Tribe, with a jaunty hit single about Seasonal Affective Disorder called “Like the Weather.” Her lyrics became less poetic and more preachy, something cemented in the follow-up album Blind Man’s Zoo. At her worst, she comes across as a sanctimonious scold. Sally Soapbox became her default setting. She rivals Morrissey in her ability to annoy me with her judgmental and often hypocritical pronouncements. (Case in point: “Candy Everybody Wants” portrays TV-viewers as morons and yet 10,000 Maniacs were often musical guests on numerous TV programs; in another article, she went on a mad bromide against the Lady Gaga/Beyonce campy video “Telephone,” failing to find humor in its homage to trashy women’s prison; yet her former band’s name at best, trivializes, people with mental disabilities).

But some of her songs can make me blub like a baby. “Cherry Tree,” about illiteracy, does it every time. And “These Are Days” practically defines nostalgic euphoria. That song kicks me out of any funk I’m in. She has a new album coming out, and it appears to draw from the Poetic side of her oeuvre. The haunting video and the lyrics to the song “Giving It Up” is very promising.