Saturday, April 17, 2010

Life After People

I had excellent luck at the library last weekend. I came home with about eight books, and two of the newer ones I wanted were in. I decided to take the potential fine hit and get them, because who knows when they'll be in again?

The one I wanted to read the most was Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood. I'm a big fan of Oryx and Crake, and I've enjoyed several of her other books as well. Year of the Flood takes us back to our own dystopian future from Oryx and Crake, and several of the minor characters that paraded around the edges are back, for a different perspective on the events that led to humanity's being wiped out.

Or nearly wiped out. In O&C, Jimmy believed himself to be the sole human survivor of his buddy Crake's super-plague, just him and the Crakers until the end of his life. In Year of the Flood, we learn that more have survived than we may have thought. It makes sense, in retrospect. The society depicted in these books is a police state, all about power and control. People's movements were restricted, they couldn't go places without good reason, it makes logical sense that there'd be a fair amount of people who were isolated from their fellow man.

Toby, for instance, who barricaded herself inside the high-class AnooYoo Spa, even though her co-workers all decided to go be with their families. Or Ren, a stripper/hooker (and Jimmy's onetime girlfriend) who worked at a club called Scales & Tails, where the women all wore these super-realistic animal costumes that were sort of alive and bonded directly to their skin. One night just before the plague, a customer tore Ren's costume, and she had to be placed in quarantine lockdown.

But as with O&C, most of the real action is in the past. Life in a depopulated world is interesting, but kind of begs the question, 'What the hell happeend?'

We get a different perspective on the events leading up to the super-plague here. Toby and Ren, who are the book's main characters, were also God's Gardeners, a religous, environmentally based organization. They were never isolated safely in a luxurious corporate Compound, but were out in the dangerous, disease-ridden Pleeblands, where unspeakable things happen all the time.

If you liked the gore from the first novel, this one delivers plenty of that, as well. The SecretBurgers, sold on every street corner, and comprised of animal proteins whose source could be anything at all, I mean ANYTHING. Same with garboil, a fuel made up of garbage, even people. The same sort of amoral feeling pervades the young people of the book. They have vile insults for one another, even the boys in God's Gardeners often encourage girls to suck their carrots, or call them meatholes, etc.

Unlike the first book, though, this one feels a bit less hopeless. It seems to seek to answer some of the questions raised by the first, one fo the big ones being: "You mean, everyone was OK with all of this?" Year of the Flood shows that NOT everyone was OK with environmental degradation and corporate control over all aspects of life. Not everyone thought that it was cool to make pigs with human brain tissue and splice lions and lambs together. Not everyone was willing to just buy more plastic crap as they were told to do. The God's Gardeners lived together in a communal setting, grew their own food, created their own energy in treadmill gyms and using solar technology, and practiced organic medicine. They had a school for their kids. They were strict vegans ('meat-breath' was a major insult).

They begin by just passive resistance. Living their own way, following their own path. The book is the tale of their dark days, their challenges, and how, in a way, they claimed victory over their enemies. If you hated Oryx, you won't like this either. But if you enjoyed it, this book is certainly a worthy follow-up.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sisters, OY!!!!!

When I was growing up, I had this terrific book called "Stories for Free Children." Approximately the size and shape of a magazine, it contained feminist fairy tales, stories dealing with other cultures before "multiculturalism" was trendy, and essays aimed at children explaining why gun violence is bad, why it's wrong to pay women less than men for doing the same job (a practice I still can't believe goes on), and why it's wrong to make fun of kids with disabilities. The book was edited by Letty Cottin Pogrebin, founding editor of Ms. Magazine. I loved that book so much that her name was burned into my subconscious, even though I hadn't thought of her for decades, until I was at the Weensy Library near my job and saw that she'd written a novel.

Three Daughters. Of course, I picked it up and took it home with me. I finished it last week, and I'm glad I pushed through, because it was pretty rewarding and enjoyable.

It was a little tough at first. The "Three Daughters" of the title -- Leah, Rachel and Shoshanna -- are not just Jewish, but the daughters of a rabbi. Judaism plays a major role as a force in the lives of the three women, and at first I felt that the novel had been written mostly for Jewish people, as an inside joke I'd never get. The community I work in has a huge Jewish population, though, and I've picked up a few terms, so I felt encouraged enough when I encountered them in the novel to keep going.

Three Daughters is basically about secrets and lies, and coming to terms with them. Though the three women are sisters, you find out early on that they weren't raised thusly. Leah's father and Rachel's mother had both been divorced at a time when that was frowned on, and found each other. Leah continued to live part-time with her biological mother, until her unstable mother reclaimed her and forbade her father to have anything to do with her. By this point, Shoshanna had been born, and by coincidence, Leah's father got a new job.

Shockingly, he went along with it. Rachel and Shoshanna moved with their parents. Shoshanna was told Rachel was her sister. She knew nothing of Leah. The entire extended family went along with the lie, until the day when Shoshanna was ten and one of her cousins hatefully blurted out the truth.

Obviously, this would have quite an effect on a person, whether you were the one cast out, the one lied to, or the one who kept everyone's secrets. The women are between 50 and 65 when the novel takes place, and through the course of the book, they all work through and past their own issues.

Interesting to me was the strong current of feminism that runs through the book. Leah and Shoshanna become close during the 1960s, when Leah is a newly-minted PhD active in the women's movement, and Shoshanna is an impressionable 14-year-old, fascinated by both her older sibling and the women's rights movement. The movement seemingly passed Rachel by -- housewife, mother of five, active in Hadassah and other respectable causes -- but even Rachel has more than meets the eye.

I do hate to say it, but Three Daughters is the type of book that won't appeal to men at all. It's strictly a women's novel. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but one I noticed. It was neat to be reunited with Pogrebin after all these years, and made me wonder what else she's written.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wooot! Post 400

I had no idea I was so close, or I would have done this weeks ago. Sadly, I remember that was my goal for the end of 2009. Here it is, April, and I'm just hitting the magic number. Oh, well.