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BOOK REVIEW: Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

BOOK REVIEW: Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Corsair
November 2017
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Literary Fiction / Speculative

3/10

The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.

Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity. 

There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe. 

 

Erdrich seems to be one of those authors who has a knack for creating a really interesting premise and then ruining it by trying to be too “literary” and “artistic”. In one of her previous titles, La Rose, the lack of quotation marks did what this particular stylistic choice usually does, and made it difficult for readers to know who was speaking, and when.

In The Future Home of the Living God, the story has the potential to be incredibly intriguing, a kind of retelling of The Handmaid’s Tale set in modern times, with women losing the right to choose what they do with their own bodies… Only in this book pretty much nothing happens.

The story is written in the form of a diary, with our main character, Cedar, writing her experiences down for her unborn child, in a world where many children and their mothers are not surviving birth.

Erdrich is lorded as something of a very accomplished writer, but this reader couldn’t help but wonder how she managed to come across this title, given the number of issues in the text:

  • The story is written in first person present tense, addressing the child as “you” as though they’re already there and reading the book. This is obviously utilised as a way of leaving the reader uncertain as to whether Cedar survives the whole pregnancy, but there are switches in tense and other issues from time to time. This would have worked much better in past tense as each journal entry is written AFTER the fact, so the use of the tense alone would not tell readers the outcome and it would definitely flow better.
  • Evolution stops. It says it right there in the blurb, and several times throughout the story. Evolution stops. This would suggest that there would be no further advancement of the affected species, but not that it would mean a kind of de-evolution, as seems to be the case. 
  • There is no clear information as to the situation around the devolving that seems to be rocking Cedar’s world. At one point the reader is able to work out (via some vague math) that the discovery was made more than a handful of years ago, and yet the panic starts as our story begins and escalates rather quickly within a period of around six months. 
  • There is no explanation as to what caused the sudden shift, and much of it does not make good science. At one point a character is discussing her own daughter who had a healthy child a handful of years ago, but whose second child was affected by this issue. THAT IS NOT HOW EVOLUTION WORKS.
  • No explanations in general. The reader gets no answers, no proper theories, and somehow, despite all the questions, nothing that happens in this story is particularly new or different, plot-wise.
  • This can’t even really be called a character study, as there is so little personality or personal growth of note within the characters on offer.

In the end, this was one of my more anticipated reads of the year, because that premise, but it ended up taking more than a week to get through fewer than three-hundred pages. There has been quite a bit of buzz about this one online, and the premise is bound to sell the book to quite a few readers, but for this reader it was a major let-down.

Best for readers who like slow, meandering stories that never really go anywhere.

BOOK REVIEW: Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

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