For the last month my students and I have talked in depth about the first two novels in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam Trilogy. Next week we sit down with The Handmaid’s Tale.Reading this many pages of Atwood in one go has been sobering and enlightening. In the world of post-Apocalyptic horrors Atwood cooly describes, there are survivors, and it’s these characters our conversation keeps circling back to. Robinson Crusoes of the future (the form of the novel never really changes, for all its flexiblity, although now we have Crusoes of more genders and races), we closely follow their every move, gauging for an authentic response, asking if in the similar circumstances we would do the same thing.
Our biggest debate has been over what defines a contemporary hero and if Atwood’s characters make the cut. It seems we embrace the conviction that now more than ever we need leaders, but what are their qualities in a time of manipulated images, pervasive corporate power, lightning fast information, and science gone wild? Who to trust and why? As usual, Atwood is evasive and unwilling to give us a definitive answer.
Even more frustrating: We have to wait until early 2013 for the last book of the MadAddam trilogy to come out. The course will be over by then, but we’re planning to get back together to talk about whether or not we get the ending we hope for and anticipate. I predict more delicious trademark Atwood wordplay and a keen mirror held up to what frightens us about where the future is headed.