Poor Jimmy


Oryx and Crake · Margaret Atwood
Random House, 2003 · 376 pages, paperback

Chickens have been reduced to tits and meat (heads no longer required) and pigs have become living organ farms. Live executions, porn, assisted suicides and naked news anchors stream freely online. Botox is laughable because new skins, head to toe, can be grown if you have enough money. Art and language are, at best, mere tools for marketing scientific achievements or, at worst, subjects of derision. Jimmy grows up in a future that is a grotesque parody of our own present.

And then plague erases this comedy and it really is time to start anew. This second future is the milieu of the Crakers, and it isn’t always easy to tell which is the more bleak.

Oryx and Crake is the first book in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian MaddAddam trilogy. Serenity gives way to despair within the first bait-and-switch paragraphs as a beach reveals itself to be a dump of rusted junk and we find Snowman, formerly Jimmy, awaking on a tree limb instead of lolling on warm sand. Any expectations we could have had for her novel immediately fall away.

The Crakers (named for Crake, their creator and Jimmy’s best friend) are denuded of everything that ever distinguished man. They possess the rudiments of language but have no god, no politics, no creativity, no feeling, no interests, no families, no individuality, no outlets for ambition. Attraction has been reduced to pheromones and sex is only mating. They eat their own recycled shit – efficient ecologically but hardly pleasurable.

Crake had designed these beings as prototypes for made-to-order humans, to show what it was possible to do. But he didn’t live to see his project’s realization. Crake made certain that he wouldn’t, that nobody would.

Except Jimmy. Poor Jimmy.

Oryx and Crake follows Jimmy as he tries to understand and get the answers to Crake and what he left behind. Atwood writes her novel primarily through Jimmy’s memories with brief interludes of his life as Snowman in that second future of the Crakers.

The Crakers, as Crake left them, are a poor substitute for mankind – its predecessor more so than its successor. Crake programmed evil out of them but with the consequence of overwriting their other emotions. Though there is no lust, envy, violence or greed, there is also no love, passion, creativity or ambition. Do the Crakers feel happiness or sadness or anger or fear? Do they feel anything?

“Oh Snowman please, what is violent?”

They are beta humans, not fully coded. Crake intended for Oryx to teach them, but she could only do so much.

Oryx. Oryx can only really exist in the future of the Crakers. She erased her own horrible past from memory and refused answers to Jimmy’s questioning. She eventually became a kind of surrogate mother for the Crakers, teaching them and guiding them before the plague came. The Crakers had an awed respect for her that becomes reverent when she is no longer there.

They’re now Jimmy’s responsibility. Poor Jimmy.

Oryx and Crake · Margaret Atwood
Random House, 2003 · 376 pages, paperback

Oryx and Crake is the first book in Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy:

Oryx and Crake
The Year of the Flood

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s