The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
This is the second book in Margaret’s series that all started with Oryx and Crake. In this installment of the series we meet Ren and Toby, mainly, but there are other characters that come into play as well as some background as to what happened in the previous book.
Ren and Toby were both members of a cultish type of movement called The Gardeners. They lived in the modern world along with everyone else. They lived among the people who took a pill for everything, but they lived apart. They would often live in abandoned buildings growing gardens on the roof. Their religious philosophies foretold of a waterless flood. This flood would bring about the downfall of humanity. They are preppers. They stockpile food and learn how to fend for themselves. The children of the community all learn valuable skills.
Ren was brought to the community when she was a young child. Her mother ran away with her from a compound and also from her father. She now lives with a man named Zeb. They’re all gardeners. They don’t eat meat and use plants medicinally. They shun flashy clothes and devices. Amanda soon finds her way into Ren’s life. Amanda lives with Ren for a while with the gardeners. We met Amanda in the previous book. She was one of Jimmy’s girlfriends.
Toby also belongs to the gardeners. She was rescued. Her parents had both died. She knew she was going to be out on the street. There was no more college future for her. She got a job at a place called Secret Burger, a restaurant that makes burgers out of any kind of meat. The secret is that you don’t know what meat went into your burger. The manager there, Blanco, is violent and often sexually abuses his workers. Toby is soon singled out by Blanco. One day protesters come to the restaurant. The protestors are none-other than the gardeners who call them themselves Adams and Eves. They abscond with Toby to their gardens. There she helps with plants. Later on, she becomes an Eve herself and learns all the secrets that various plants and mushrooms hold.
The flood does come. Ren has grown up and has found herself working at a brothel of sorts. She’s a dancer amongst other things. She too was one of Jimmy’s girlfriends, the first in fact. Ren is sealed up in something called the sticky room when the waterless flood hits. The room is sealed off to prevent biohazardous materials from leaking out, so it’s the safest possible place Ren could be. She is able to text Amanda who is on the outside, but she’s still alive. Ren stays in her room for quite while.
Amanda soon finds her and gets her out. Three young men are also reunited with Ren and Amanda. They are gardeners as well. They plan to leave because some criminals, including Blanco are prowling the streets looking for them. Toby is alive and well. She put up a stockpile of food in the beauty spa where she was working. She soon meets up with Ren and the plans now turn into a rescue mission. It turns out more people survived the plague than Jimmy had thought. Jimmy also holds a place in this story.
What I liked
I really liked that I got more background to Margaret’s apocalypse. It’s really neat to see how fictitious apocalypses develop. Who caused them? Why? Are they plausible? How many people survive? It’s all highly interesting.
I liked this group of preppers that Margaret thought up. There are people who are preppers in real life. There is an entire show about it and there are also entire religious groups who are counseled to put away things they might need in case of a disaster. Mostly, it’s just common sense. Disaster can and will happen. It may not be a world-wide disaster or country-wide disaster, but wouldn’t you feel better knowing you had the materials to ride out being stuck in a hurricane-ravaged area if you had to? Of course your would feel better. In a lot of situations people die because they’re not prepared. People die every winter because they don’t have enough heat sources. It’s really a preventable death, but that’s just one example.
What I’m trying to say is that being a prepper isn’t that weird. If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, have hurricane essentials on hand. If you live in an area prone to tornadoes, have a storm shelter. If you live near a chemical plant, have bug-out bags in case there is a chemical spill and you have to leave. Being a prepper is a smart move, of course, it’s never good to let something like being a prepper take over your life. You still have to remember that there is a here and now. Your disaster that you’re preparing for may never happen. You can’t prep for the future and ignore your life now. ¿Comprende?
I think these gardeners had a good mix. They had their religion. They had their activities. They had their structure. They had children’s activities and celebrations, but they also prepped. They were prepared. The children were prepared. They were still living in the now, but prepping for the future. You may think they’re a weird lot, but they’re smart. They really are. Why do you think I have a collection of books about living off the land and doing things myself? It’s so I can have that knowledge on hand in case I need it. It’s very important to be able to survive. That seems like a “duh” kind of thing to say, but people often forget that we live a very fine balance. We can be thrown off course so easily. We need to know what to do in case that happens.
What I didn’t like
The religion of the gardeners is rather strange. I get where they’re coming from, but it all seems so odd. I guess that’s probably because it’s not something I’m familiar with. I don’t really like how these sermons were interspersed in the text along with the gardener hymns. I really tuned that part of the book out. It’s important to the story because that’s how Ren, Toby, and Amanda survive, but it just sounds so hokey. I kind of wished they would have shut-up and went on about their lives.
I would say I’m a spiritual person and I was raised somewhat in an organized religion, so I’m not opposed to any of this. I wish people would profess their beliefs through actions rather than by cornering you and professing what they believe in. That’s kind of what I feel these gardeners were doing. They just went on and on. Actions speak louder than words, but I can’t really say these gardeners did not act, because they did. They followed through with their words; I just didn’t want to listen to their words. I guess I’m more the type that wants you to show me what you believe. If you believe in the great flying spaghetti monster there better darn well be some kind of painting on your wall of the great flying spaghetti monster. You better not just talk to me all about the great flying spaghetti monster and don’t even think about giving me some Photoshopped pamphlet about the joys of following the great flying spaghetti monster. I want to see your faith in action. I want to see you living it.
Margaret is good at painting depraved societies. This society is sad. People worship science and manipulate things they should not. She kind of has this vibe that humans are trash, I know she doesn’t entirely think that because she puts hope in her stories about the human race, but it’s still there a little. She’s right. We can be trashy. We can be careless. We can be unobservant. We can ruin things. We ruin a lot of things. We could very well bring down a disaster upon ourselves. We could shoot ourselves in the foot. Honestly, if there is ever a huge life-changing event that spreads across the world and life sucks for us from then on, it’s probably going to be because we caused it. I wouldn’t go as far as to taut all the ideas the global warming people have, I don’t think New York is going to be in the ocean anytime soon, but that could be part of it. It will some sort of warfare, some sort of experiment gone wrong, or some disease we left unchecked. Maybe we fracked too much and ruined something that we don’t have the knowledge to fix. We really tend to consume before we think. Margaret has captured that splendidly, but it’s also a reminder of how terrible we can be.
Margaret, you’re so freaking awesome.