The End of Fiction
a review of Margaret Atwood's Oryx
--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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