Rakunks and Wolvogs
I admit to approaching Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake with some trepidation. Disillusionment had begun to set in on my part. In my opinion, exposure to a surplus of dystopian future novels can leave readers jaded. The dystopia may have a diminished effect on the reader who consumes too many versions. Individually horrifying, distinct messages become lost among the crowd of voices shouting about how the world will end. Overexposure to the genre makes it difficult for any one threat to stand out from the amalgamation of nuclear warheads and deadly pathogens. As a reader, you begin to wonder why you should care about one dystopian novel any more than another. Suffering from early symptoms of this syndrome, I went into the novel unsure if it would hold my interest.
I found, however, that I made an unexpected personal connection to the novel that trumped my borderline disillusionment with the genre. For Jimmy’s tenth birthday, his father gives him a pet rakunk, a hybrid raccoon/skunk. Jimmy falls in love with “Killer.”
This was my weak spot. Anyone who had a childhood pet knows what I’m talking about. Not only did I have a pet, however, but I found that my pet existed in Jimmy’s world. While he had a harmless rakunk, I had a wolvog: Barney: a wolf/Siberian Husky hybrid. I can’t recall exactly how I learned of his lupine heritage, but I was young, and absorbed this tantalizing possibility as fact. I remember proudly demonstrating Barney’s sled dog abilities to my friends. As he easily pulled three of us over the snow, I explained that he was part wolf and might eat them in the wild but it was okay for ride because they were with me.
In reality, Barney was a gentle dog, nothing like the deceptive, deadly wolvogs (interesting side note on real-life wolvog behavior). In fact, he was much more like Jimmy’s pet rakunk. So, when Jimmy’s mother “liberated” Killer, it struck a very personal chord. I felt the loss personally. It went so far as to remind me of having to put down my own dog, stirring up powerful feelings of nostalgia and loss. Suddenly, I felt the same sense of loss for the world Jimmy knew, as though the connection between our childhood pets bridged the gap between our realities. His world was instantly more tangible to me; its tragedies more personal. I became, in a word, invested. That’s how this particular novel escaped my growing indifference toward dystopia and won over my attention and concern.