“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. Thirty-two-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.”
My Thoughts: Louise Erdrich‘s latest novel may seem like a departure from her previous novels with her foray into the speculative fiction realm. With its discussions of world-ending changes and evolution moving in reverse, it is not quite the contemporary fiction story she typically presents. However, concerned potential readers should rest assured that while the story may be a different genre, her storytelling remains as stunning as ever.
Told in epistolary form, Future Home of the Living God is the story of one woman navigating the rapidly-devolving world as best she can while maintaining the safety of her unborn child. No one knows the reasons for the reverse evolution, how it originated, how far back in time organisms will go, or how to combat it. Thus, as the number of homo sapiens babies born to pregnant mothers dwindles, society begins to retract around those women who literally hold the future of the human species in their bodies. The problem is that this is done in true dystopian fashion – misinformation or a total lack of information, abuses of power, threats, incarceration, bribery, and more all done in the name of Christian values and the promise of a better life and protection for women of child-bearing age.
Cedar is writing all of this to her unborn child as a way to establish a record of the fall of civilization and a way to clarify her own thoughts during this tumultuous time. Because it is Cedar’s story, the focus is on those things that interest her. Since she expresses very little desire to understand what and why is happening, we don’t learn much about what is happening beyond her sphere of influence. Instead, we watch as she works out who her family is and what they mean to her. We see her meet her biological mother for the first time. We are alongside her as she sets about making a nest with her baby’s father. We are with her as she confronts hard truths about her adoptive parents. We are by her side as she waits in the hospital and wonders what is going to happen to her baby. This allows you to connect to Cedar on an intimate level as she comes to grips with what is happening to her, to her child, to her family, and to the world at large.
What follows is a somewhat spooky, definitely surreal, and surprisingly suspenseful story as Cedar races against the clock to keep her unborn child from the government’s clutches. As with any good dystopian novel, she makes new friends, finds surprising allies, and discovers who is willing to ignore their values when times get tough. We also discover what it means to be a family as Cedar’s predicament brings together biological and adoptive parents.
In such an unusual story, Ms. Erdrich’s writing skill comes to the fore. Her ability to set the tone with one careful sentence means readers never forget what is happening outside of Cedar’s world. The more forceful reminders of the ongoing changes are downright chilling when viewed in the context of what they portend for the world. Ms. Erdrich is able to bridge the gap from present and familiar to future and foreign through her beautiful but efficient writing.
Most of Future Home of the Living God is bleak. Cedar has no doubts that non-homo sapiens babies born in the hospitals or government-run facilities do not last long. Nor does she have doubts as to her future prospects should she be caught. The last scene in particular is rough. Yet, you finish the novel with a feeling of hope. It is a marvel of storytelling that you end the story feeling hopeful that humanity and all of nature will find a way to adapt and survive the new norm, that people will continue to resist injustice and persecution, and that compromise is possible. You take this feeling with you as you reenter the real world with its doom-and-gloom headlines filled with hate and denial. More importantly, you keep this feeling long after you turn that last page. Because of this, and so much more, Future Home of the Living God not only lives up to Ms. Erdrich’s reputation and surpasses it.