Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

When I received my shiny, pretty copy of Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich from HarperCollins, I didn't notice that the cover is a glossy ultrasound image. It was only when I went to add the book to my current reads that it became clear. So, what does the storyline have to do with the cover image? The protagonist, Cedar Songmaker, is 4 months pregnant at the opening of the book.

Future Home of the Living God is set in a dystopian near future. Climate change has altered the environment and the human race has stopped evolving and begun to slide backwards at an alarming rate. Pregnant women are being seized by the government. What is happening? Scientists have not been able to figure out why humans are losing ground, have no idea how to reverse the problem. And, people are beginning to panic.

Because she wants her child to be born as safe and healthy as possible, Cedar has decided to seek out her birth parents to learn about her family's medical history. Meanwhile, her adoptive parents have disappeared and the father of her child eventually reappears in her life. Will Cedar be able to remain hidden from view until after the baby arrives? Will the baby be normal or a less evolved creature? How will she and the child hide after its birth?

Those questions were enough to keep the pages turning and I really liked Louise Erdrich's writing, but I had some issues with the world building. As I was reading, I expected the usual peeling of the onion, plot-wise. I presumed that the author would make it clear, for example, why the societal structure was going to pieces, why there was a run on banks, why people would panic and go all Lord of the Flies. I understood why a pregnant woman might be in danger because The People in Charge might feel that it might be necessary to come up with some sort of breeding program that necessitated keeping the healthiest, most intelligent, closest-to-normal babies separate from those who were reverting to a more primitive form. That seems like a pretty obvious concept in a world where the opposite of evolution is taking place. But, I never felt like there was enough basis for such a complete collapse of the societal network, primarily because I couldn't buy into the concept that evolution could reverse itself so quickly that people would worry that soon they wouldn't be human at all.

Neither recommended or not recommended - I have mixed feelings about Future Home of the Living God because there was a great deal that I liked about it but I felt like there were too many pieces missing. Sure, panic could cause things to go blooey, but evolution is such a slow process that a sizeable cross-section of humanity doesn't even believe it exists. The idea that it could reverse itself at such speed just didn't work for me. And, yet, I loved the characterization, the setting, the use of the heroine's Native American heritage, and the way the book made me think. So, it was definitely not a waste of time and I'm glad I read it. I just closed the book feeling a little unsatisfied because I didn't feel the questions the plot was structured around were suitably answered.

I still have a copy of Louise Erdrich's last book on my TBR piles. I started LaRose and was enjoying it but set it aside because I had too many books going at once, last year. Even though Future Home of the Living God didn't entirely work for me, it has definitely made me want to return to LaRose. Erdrich is clearly an excellent writer and I always, always appreciate the use of Native Americans in literature as I feel they're underrepresented.

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  1. I got an ARC from HarperCollins as well, but I'm hesitant to open it. The story in this one just sounds SO strange. I've enjoyed Erdrich's writing before, so I'll probably get to this one sooner or later, but I'm definitely not rushing.

    1. Dystopian books are often a bit strange so I'm okay with that. But, I do feel like it's crucial to make sure readers understand the reasoning when things fall apart. Much as I liked her writing, I didn't feel like I ever got that from the book. I'm fine with the basis for societal collapse coming out in dribs and drabs through dialogue, but I do want to understand it.

      It's apparently an unusual book for Erdrich. She started it years ago and was unsure it was worth completing but got some encouragement. I think I would have really enjoyed it and given it a much higher rating if she'd set the scene a bit better and made it clear why, for example, the food supply chain and banking didn't just continue on as usual.


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