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Future Home of the Living God


Future Home of the Living God

Award-winning novelist Louise Erdrich is nothing if not prolific. The author of more than a dozen books for adults as well as numerous titles for young people, she is also the owner of an independent bookstore in her native Minnesota. Now, in FUTURE HOME OF THE LIVING GOD, Erdrich takes readers in what would appear, at first glance, to be a striking new direction into dystopian fiction. But her latest novel still maintains the strong sense of Native identity and connection to place and the land that have distinguished many of her prior works.

"Readers might not come away from FUTURE HOME OF THE LIVING GOD with anything resembling hope, but they will have much to consider --- including one model for how to survive the unthinkable."

In 2017, especially, it’s probably impossible not to compare Erdrich’s new novel to that classic work of feminist dystopian fiction, Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE, which has been much in the popular mind of late. FUTURE HOME OF THE LIVING GOD does share many characteristics with Atwood’s --- particularly the theocratic dystopian government (which, in Erdrich’s case, is called The Church of the New Constitution) and its fixation on controlling women’s reproduction. True to its moment, however, Erdrich’s apocalyptic crisis seems to be precipitated, at least in part, by climate change (the novel ends with a lovely and truly heartbreaking meditation on the increasing rarity of snowfall). Largely, though, the crisis at the center of the book is unexplained --- readers will likely feel as out of the loop as Cedar Hawk Songmaker, the narrator, who knows only that human evolution seems to be happening in reverse, that humans have begun devolving into earlier versions of themselves.

What this means for the human race is an open question; what it means for Cedar is something far more specific. She’s pregnant, though at the book’s opening, no one knows this. The novel is framed as a series of journal entries meant to be passed on to her unborn child, whom she addresses as “you” throughout the book. Cedar, who is of Native American heritage but was adopted by white parents, was raised in a liberal, affluent neighborhood of the Twin Cities. Now that she is expecting her own child, however, Cedar grows increasingly curious about her birth mother, and embarks on a journey to the reservation, where she discovers that her Native name is Mary Potts, quite a bit less romantic than her adoptive name of Cedar Songmaker. Cedar feels a kinship with her birth relatives, particularly with her birth mother’s new husband, who shares Cedar’s penchant for processing thoughts and feelings through writing.

By the time Cedar returns home from the reservation, societal conditions have deteriorated noticeably, and she begins to fear for the safety of herself and her unborn child. The new government has begun rounding up pregnant women, in search of those whose babies might not yet participate in the devolution process. Cedar, a devout Catholic who writes a faith-based magazine called Zeal, sees parallels everywhere between her predicament and the incarnation of Jesus. From her newly discovered birth name to a saint’s shrine to her baby’s due date (Christmas Day, naturally), signs and portents are everywhere, even as Cedar contends with the prosaic and even brutal realities of her new life. Friendships are hard won, long-time loyalties can’t be trusted entirely, and unimaginable situations --- including murder and one truly horrific scene involving childbirth in a subterranean cave --- must be dealt with.

Readers might not come away from FUTURE HOME OF THE LIVING GOD with anything resembling hope, but they will have much to consider --- including one model for how to survive the unthinkable.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on November 16, 2017

Future Home of the Living God
by Louise Erdrich