Margaret Atwood’s visionary The Year Of The Flood (Nan A. Talese, $26.95) continues where Oryx and Crake left off. The long-awaited flood, which is actually a plague, has destroyed most human life on the planet, but two women remain: Toby and Ren, who once lived together in the group called God’s Gardeners, a religious organization devoted to preserving the natural world. The women now lead totally different lives, each surviving in her own way, and their combined memories reveal the painful events which have led to their present situation. Atwood perfectly creates a future world, one where gene-splicing, corporate power, cosmetic perfection, and class disparities have spiraled out of control.
Suddenly, without foreshadowing, he died. I mean John Updike, whose carefully crafted flow of adjectives and adverbs, bursting with resonance, continue to give so much aesthetic pleasure. He wrote movingly about his mother’s death but seemed to leave us with a blank canvas at his own sudden exit. But then Random House surprised us with three volumes put together in the year before his final deadline. The author and publisher, it appears, stealthily planned this canonical bequest.
From his midlife, The Maples Stories (Everyman, $15), those poignant linked short fictions of a disintegrating marriage, originally—30 years ago—titled Too Far to Go, has been reissued with a new addition, “Grandparenting,” along with Updike’s reassurance that the Maples are “both still alive and look well, considering.” My Father’s Tears (Knopf, $25.95), Updike’s last short story collection, is quintessential Updike: thinly veiled autobiography. The volume’s final story leaves us with a benediction as a toast is drunk to the visible world, “impending disappearance from it be damned.” Finally, Endpoint (Knopf, $25) is a book of poems Updike wrote in the last seven years of his life. I loved all of them, especially Updike’s own valedictory farewell, “Requiem”: For life’s a shabby subterfuge,/ and death is real, and dark, and huge,/ the shock of it will register/ Nowhere but where it will occur.”