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Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
Literary fiction

Future Home of the Living God

by Louise Erdrich

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Quick take

Rather than merely capturing the horror of such circumstances, Erdrich also offers her characters and readers the comfort of radical love.

Synopsis

Louise Erdrich, the author of bestselling novels including LaRose and The Round House, paints a startling portrait of a young woman fighting for her life and her unborn child against oppressive forces that manifest in the wake of a cataclysmic event.

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.

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.

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Future Home of the Living God
August 7 When I tell you that my white name is Cedar Hawk Songmaker and that I am the adopted child of Minneapolis liberals, and that when I went looking for my Ojibwe parents and found that I was born Mary Potts I hid the knowledge, maybe you'll understand. Or not. I'll write this anyway, because ever since last week things have changed. Apparently—I mean, nobody knows—our world is running backward. Or forward. Or maybe sideways, in a way as yet ungrasped. I am sure somebody will come up with a name for what is happening, but I cannot imagine how everything around us and everything within us can be fixed. What is happening involves the invisible, the quanta of which we are created. Whatever is actually occurring, there is constant breaking news about how it will be handled—speculation, really, concerning what comes next—which is why I am writing an account. Historic times! There have always been letters and diaries written in times of tumult and discovered later, and my thought is that I could be writing one of those. And even though I realize that all lexical knowledge may be useless, you'll have this record. Did I mention I'm four months pregnant? With you?

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Why I love it

"The first thing that happens at the end of the world is that we don’t know what is happening." Like any good dystopian thriller, Future Home of the Living God externalizes present-day anxieties with such imagination that you both forget about your fears and imagine the worst possible manifestation of them. That rare effect begins with the voice of 26-year-old Cedar Songmaker, our warm, chatty narrator and hand-holder through the apocalypse. What starts as writing letters to her unborn child becomes a way for Cedar to think through the unthinkable. Louise Erdrich can see through Cedar's eyes so completely and clearly that even her white hot panic can be articulated. The circuit from Cedar’s heart to her brain to her sentences is as short as can be—immediate but thorough, startled but precise, and one of the last things she can call her own.

Rather than merely capturing the horror of such circumstances, Erdrich also offers her characters and readers the comfort of radical love. Makeshift families become the only way to cherish the last days of humanity. The characters surrounding Cedar become your loves, too. My favorite parts of the book were her biological mother’s husband’s daily treatises on why to not kill yourself (he, too, uses writing to feel his way along the darkened hallway of humanity’s future): "Who says any complexity is irreducible? IT IS BEING REDUCED ALL AROUND US RIGHT NOW." Just not in this beautiful book.

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Member ratings (1,907)

  • Ashley C.

    Huntsville, AL

    Reading this a long time past when I chose it in 2017, but it seems so much more topical today. Cedar’s diary to her unborn child drags you in and takes you along for a tortuous ride. Sad and scary.

  • Leslie S.

    Bellflower, CA

    Erdich never disappoints me, at least not until the end of this book, which was so depressing and sad that I'm still trying to decide if I'm glad I read the book. Ok, I am, the writing is wonderful.

  • Allison M.

    Chicago, IL

    A more realistic "Handmaid's Tale" postulating that climate change will result in more and more conflicts, from the hyperlocal to the global. I found the "backwards evolution" conceit underdeveloped.

  • Courtney H.

    Dallas , TX

    This was a different read for me, but I do love anything tied to a post apocalyptic/ dystopian threads. I was pleasantly surprised at home much I enjoyed this book. It may help that I am a new mama.

  • Allyson D.

    Caldwell, TX

    There are a lot of criticisms for basically every part of this novel, but I disagree with them all. This book was lovely, and although it broke my heart, it was unique and is a new favorite of mine.

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