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Entertainment Weekly

Books

Louise Erdrich stuns again in Future Home of the Living God: EW review

Harper Collins

Posted on

If real life seems to be tipping further toward dystopia lately, it makes sense that art would follow — even for a novelist as earthbound and richly humanist as Louise Erdrich. Though her latest actually found its roots more than 15 years ago when, as she wrote in a note to early readers, “I started wondering why evolution started and what would happen if just as mysteriously, it stopped.”

Like so many of Erdrich’s protagonists, 26-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker is a young person caught uneasily between Anglo and Native worlds: the adopted Ojibwe daughter of enlightened white Minnesotans who hit every NPR-liberal check mark (vegan, Buddhist, relentlessly natural-fibered). Unlike most, she’s also four months pregnant, estranged from her baby’s father, and faced with a rapidly devolving planet where “things are changing on a molecular level, dogs and cats and horses and humans all breeding strangely, or not at all.”

In the midst of trying to reconnect with the birth parents she never knew (and, it turns out, hardly could have imagined), Cedar becomes the target of a draconian new policy to round up and detain every childbearing woman inside the country’s increasingly chaotic borders. Though Erdrich doesn’t spend much time dwelling on the technicalities of exactly how all this came to be, she grounds her story in a kind of sharply drawn reality that makes the standard tropes of dark futurism — the paramilitary street squads; the false bright jargon of agitprop; the sudden Big Brother-ing of privacy and free will — that much more unnerving.

Certain parts of Future Home feel both rushed and incomplete, maybe because the original 500-page manuscript was reworked so quickly on the heels of last year’s epic LaRose. But Erdrich operating at less than full capacity is still a stunner: a writer whose words carry a spiritual weight far beyond science, or fiction. B+

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