Future Home of the Living Godby Published 14 Nov 2017
|Future Home of the Living God.pdf|
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.
A chilling dystopian novel both provocative and prescient, Future Home of the Living God is a startlingly original work from one of our most acclaimed writers: a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.
"Future Home of the Living God" Reviews
I woke up thinking about this book and even though I had finished reading it, I wasn't ready to leave it behind. I haven't been able to get it out of my head enough to engage in another book. This captivating story is beautifully written as we expect from Louise Erdrich. To those who hold dear Erdrich's stories filled with her love of her Native American heritage, I would urge you to not shy away from this book because you think she may have moved that aside in what may seem like different kind of story. In this warning of an apocalyptic world, she has not left it behind, rather it is front and center in the character of Cedar Hawk Songmaker and her family.
Cedar has lived a comfortable, happy life with a caring couple who adopted her at birth. She hasn't made any attempts to find her birth parents until she finds herself pregnant and wants to find out if there is anything in their medical history that she should know to protect her unborn child. As the story unfolds, she has to do so much more to protect herself and her baby in this time of chaos - with seemingly backward evolution, a government that has fallen apart, and the hunt for pregnant women. Like many expectant mother's, she keeps tract of her baby's development and lovingly speaks to the baby in this intimate first person narrative, a letter to her child. Her journey to motherhood in this chilling world where she has to hide, to escape being caught is haunting and harrowing. A gripping, scary story as she makes her way, unsure of who to trust. In spite of not knowing what the future holds for her and her baby, what she does know for sure is the love that surrounds her. I loved the relationships and the characters in this story - from Cedar to her parents , Sera and Glen, her biological mother, Mary Potts and Mary's husband Eddy to her postman Hiro.
My rating is 4.5 stars because I needed to know more in the end, but I have to give it 5 stars for the thought provoking and beautiful work that Erdrich gives us. I reluctantly admit that this is only the second book that I have read by Erdrich, but I plan to change that soon.
I received an advanced copy of this book from HarperCollins through Edelweiss.
“Accept life. You can be absolved of anything you did, you can completely win back God’s love, by contributing to the future of humanity. Your happy sentence is only nine months.”
I agree with Tatiana and other GR reviewers. Future Home of the Living God has a fascinating premise, but it actually spends very little time exploring the devolution of humanity idea (essentially, evolution going backwards with all species becoming more primitive at an alarming rate) and instead retells The Handmaid's Tale.
It's surprising that this book has received such positive reviews from critics given that it is highly derivative. I'm already tired of these Atwood copycats - Red Clocks is another - and I'm sure this is just the beginning. It cannot be a coincidence that they are all popping up while the hype of the Hulu series is still fresh.
This book is split into three parts. Part one is an extremely slow introspective build where Cedar Hawk Songmaker finally meets her native birth mother and considers how she feels about being pregnant. The whole book is written in diary entries to "you", her unborn child. Perhaps this is characteristic of Erdrich's style in that she explores daily habits, dreams and circling thoughts with little actually happening, but I don't think it's a great choice for a book exploring a dystopian concept.
The effect of the devolution is that very few "original" babies are born - those resembling humanity as we know it. Many women experience stillbirths; many more die themselves. The new theocracy that grows out of this chaos - “The Church of the New Constitution” - starts rounding up pregnant and fertile women to seize the babies of the former, and forcibly inseminate the latter.
Most of the action takes place in part two. Too bad most of this action also took place thirty years ago in The Handmaid's Tale. It is the same story - a man, woman and their child in hiding from a theocratic government, until the woman is captured and sent off to a place where many women are kept. Women are imprisoned to be used for their fertile bodies. Even the "Mother" character who lectures the women on becoming empowered through God’s blessing of a child is reminiscent of Atwood's "Aunts".
I found too much of the book to be dull, and the most dynamic and exciting parts were those ripped straight from one of my favourite books of all time. I was also disappointed how this book wasn't really about the devolution aspect at all, but only the infertility dystopia that grew out of it. Was this a poor choice for my first Louise Erdrich book or is she simply not for me?
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In the beginning was the word Cedar Hawk Songmaker, 26, is writing a journal to her unborn child, very much hoping there will be a world left in which he or she can read it. This is a real concern, as the world appears to be going haywire. Plants and creatures, including people, are not breeding true. Giving birth, itself, has become a dodgy proposition. And who knows what will emerge?
-– John 1:1
The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. The Word manifests itself in every creature.
--Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
A car passes me bearing the bumper sticker Come the Rapture Can I Have Your Car. Oh, good, not everybody’s getting ready to ascend. I love driving. Thinking while I shoot along. If it is true that every particle that I can see and not see, and all that is living and perhaps unloving too, is trimming its sails and coming about and heading back to port, what does that mean? Where are we bound? Is it any different in fact, from where we were going in the first place? Perhaps all of creation from the coddling moth to the elephant was just a grandly detailed thought that God was engrossed in elaborating upon, when suddenly God fell asleep. We are an idea, then. Maybe God has decided that we are an idea not worth thinking about anymore.
The story follows Cedar, who had been adopted as an infant by white liberal city folks, through connecting with her Native American biological mother’s family, attempting to see her pregnancy through to term, and attempting to maintain her safety and freedom in a world where danger and attempts at intrusive control dominate.
Louise Erdrich - image from The Daily Beast
In the beginning was the title. Caren Wilton, in a 2006 interview with Erdrich a New Zealand site, Noted, reports Erdrich saying she started with a title taken from a sign she had seen in an empty field: The Future Home of the Living God. It was to be a diversion from the more historical novels she is known for. She had a somewhat different focus in this early vision of the book.
Actually, it's about the postal system, says Erdrich...Perhaps I look dubious, because she starts to laugh. "It really is, I'm not making that up. I love the intricacies of the postal system. In the book, the US postal system decides to leave the government, and they make a compact with the National Guard so that the mail continues to be delivered."At some point she opted to write something else. Her next adult book was The Plague of Doves. She got a bit of a prod to return to it in 2016. According to CTV News,
Louise Erdrich, speaking at a HarperCollins dinner, recalled how Trump's win drove her to take another look at a novel she had set aside years earlier, "Future Home of the Living God." The book…tells of a society in which women's rights and democracy itself are endangered,among other things. It is not clear how much of the book she had already written prior to this, and what changes she made to what she had already done.
Dystopian visions abound these days. It is impossible, in considering this novel, not to summon to mind The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s (and television’s) concerns about human fertility, risky science, a planet rebelling against the outrages of a waste-based society, and women being restored to a subservient place in the culture with extreme prejudice. Is the dramatic decline in fertility in both Atwood’s and Erdrich’s books, nature objecting to what homo sapiens has done to its home world? Is it a specific natural reaction to scientific overreach, an experiment or project gone terribly wrong? Among other reasons, the meanderings here give voice to the notion that heightened intelligence is not a particularly good quality to have in a species looking to stick around for a long time. Maybe being the brightest bulb as a species means burning out the fastest.
Motherhood is an obvious stream here. Beginning with the opening epigraph (noted at the top of the review), from Hildegaard of Bingen, manifesting with a plethora of characters named Mary, and including an internet-based Big Brother sort named Mother. Cedar is connecting with her birth mother after 26 years of separation. Is Cedar more from her adoptive parents or more from Mary Potts, her bio-mom? There is a parallel theme that looks at God and religion. Cedar is a convert to Catholicism, in fact even reads nerd-level religious journals, and engages in an ongoing internal dialogue about the meaning of what she sees in the more universal sense. A Native American saint, Kateri (like Cedar, an [adoptee]…who converted to Catholicism as a teen) has been sighted.
Where do we come from and where are we going, as individuals, and as a species? The notion, noted in the largest of the review-opening quotes, persists throughout, and is indistinguishable from the meandering thoughts on God and the nature of existence
This is not a typical Louise Erdrich novel, at least not judging by her most recent work, anyway. The story-telling is much more linear. No major time jumps to speak of, and the action remains focused on Cedar’s experiences. Also, while she is fond of magical realism, this has a more science-fictiony sheath within which to consider existential questions than the magical realism historical work she usually favors. It is definitely fun, in a dark way, when extinct creatures again roam the earth as humanity is de-volving. Don’t think too hard about how those beasties might have come to be, how they might have been raised to adulthood. Devolution is happening. Don’t sweat the details.
Cedar is a mostly sympathetic character, so one can relate to her struggle, as one could to Atwood’s heroine. Enough of the details of this world make sense to keep us in the story. Things like Native Americans looking at an opportunity to reclaim ancient land, and religious extremists using their organizational skills to take over and institute an autocratic theocracy (a redundancy, and probably a Mike Pence wet dream) make sense, particularly given the 20th and 21st century experience of failing states across the world. The details of societal devolution are fascinating.
I had one gripe in particular, a character who I felt was given short shrift. A man, who had been helping many women escape the authorities, gives up some information under torture, as I expect most of us would, is then seen as an enemy instead of another victim, and is turned away. Hmmm. This is not comparable to her recent masterpiece-level novels, LaRose
and The Round House, but, overall, Future Home of the Living God a pretty good read. You can take my word for it.
Review Posted – 12/1/2017
Published - 11/14/2017
Links to the author’s personal and FB pages. Erdrich's personal site redirects to the site Birchbark Books. She owns the store.
Other Louise Erdrich novels I have reviewed
-----The Round House
-----The Plague of Doves
-----The Painted Drum
-----Paris Review – Winter 2010 - Louise Erdrich, The Art of Fiction No. 208 by Lisa Halliday
-----Noted – April 2006 my link text - Caren Wilton
-----Alchetron - Louise Erdrich - a nice history of Erdrich and her work
----- Flowers for Socrates - November 2016 - Word Cloud: Windigo - this blog entry intersperses poems by Erdrich with bits of her history. A snippet of one in particular caught my interest, given her fondness for the surreal, from Advice to Myself
Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Erdrich is another one of my favourite authors. LaRose was exquisite. Now this read is of a dystopian flavour, and call me a heretic, but I'm not truly a believer...That is, until Erdrich spun a tail so rich she has converted or bewitched me. Either way, I'm a believer. Or so the song goes.
Cedar, 4 months pregnant, locates her biological Ojibwa parents during a time of flux when the world is changing. Pregnant women are corralled into hospitals -babies removed from them. Cedar hides until her due date in various locations. She has both parents working at hiding her so she can remain with her child. And the love that surrounds this unborn child, prevails.
This was on the verge of being a thriller. One where I wasn't exactly sure what was going on and it didn't really matter as I just went with it.
Great characters, plot development all them wholesome good things that make a good story great. Erdrich's phenomenal descriptive writing of snow, rocks (yes!) and the ominous evil of Mother. I lived and breathed it.
I keep saying I don't like the dystopian genre, but this is the 3rd one I've read (Bird box & Good Morning, Midnight) to convince me, I must be in denial.
In this dystopian novel, Cedar Hawk Songmaker is four months pregnant at the end of the world as we know it. Evolution has come to a screeching halt and is seemingly rapidly reversing. Society is falling apart; food is scarce; nobody knows exactly what is happening. The US government has been replaced by something called the Church of the New Constitution and they are actively rounding up all pregnant women to study them and their fetuses.
We learn all this through journal entries that Cedar is writing for her baby so that the child will someday know what was happening while Cedar was carrying him. The story is filled with the love of a mother for her unborn child: her protectiveness and worry, her hopes and dreams for the future.
Cedar herself was adopted and raised by a liberal Minneapolis couple, Sera and Glen, who are Buddhists, but as a rebellious young adult, Cedar has turned to Catholicism, studying and writing articles for a magazine she publishes called Zeal. She is particularly interested in Kateri Tekakwitha, the patron saint of the Ojibwa people, the tribe of her birth mother.
When she first learns she's pregnant, she decides to seek out her birth mother, Mary Potts, on the Ojibwa reservation, to learn more about her baby's genetic background. There she also meets her grandmother, sister and step-father, who is writing articles on reasons not to kill oneself.
After returning to her own home, her baby's father Phil moves in with her to protect her in the rather hopeless desire to keep her pregnancy hidden. Once in 'the system,' Cedar is driven to do things she never thought possible to protect her unborn child. 'That my body is capable of building a container for the human spirit inspired in me the will to survive. To bear this child, I will go through whatever pain I must. This is the Incarnation. The spirit gives flesh meaning.' So beautifully written!
Throughout the story, there is an air of mystery, since we do not know exactly what is going on in the world at large. Most communication has been cut off: no cellphones, no tv news, etc. And there are unanswered questions in Cedar's own life: like who is her birth father? What has happened to Phil? Cedar is also kept in the dark about the condition of her baby; they will not tell her what the many ultrasounds and tests they perform reveal. But Cedar is convinced she is carrying a boy child with all the symbolism that involves with her religious views. She speculates on whether her child will ever be able to read her journals. Will he have the capacity to learn, to speak?
And finally, Erdrich's description of snow is just exquisite. Will our environment warm enough that someday we will no longer be able to experience the cold pleasures of snow?