Future Home of the Living God, Louise Erdrich (Harper 978-0-06-269405-8, $28.99, 280pp, hc) November 2017.
In Future Home of the Living God, Louise Erdrich works elements from taut near-future dystopian thrillers, apocalyptic SF, and epic fantasy into a narrative where the sudden change that’s stricken Earth is too great and new to comprehend, the perspective too intensely personal for Avatars of Good and Evil to battle over the planet’s fate. Her first-person narrator is a young woman, four months pregnant, knowing how vague all reports of the crisis are, yet (since something’s messing with the bloodlines in new births) troubled enough to start this combination diary and scrapbook – addressed to a child she hopes will be entirely human.
Cedar Hawk Songmaker got her exotic name when two well-off Minneapolis liberals (WASPs turned Buddhist) adopted a Native infant whose Ojibwe mother called her Mary Potts. That heritage involves no special powers, no links to “healing spirits or sacred animals,” and reservation life seems pretty good. Stepfather Eddy owns and runs a Superpumper franchise gas station, up the highway and over the border to Canada. As the book opens on August 7, Cedar is 26, plans to be an unwed mother (though she lives with the guy), and has just resolved to visit her birth mother for the first time when she gets a phone call from her adoptive father (who doesn’t like her travel plans when things are so unsettled). A brief exchange, choppy even in the original paragraphs, captures the mood: “The president is talking about declaring a state of emergency, and there’s a debate in Congress about confining certain…”; “Dad, you’re always–”; “This time it’s real, please come back.”
While this could be a diary and grab bag (of relics and memories), the narrative moves to the urgent rhythms of a thriller. Late in August, Cedar witnesses her “first gravid female detention” in a parking lot. By September, she‘s detained. Then people from both families – loving adoptive mother, Native stepfather (a brilliant bookaholic manic-depressive) – penetrate her hospital/prison. Throughout the novel, quirky pages from Eddy’s own vast manuscript serve as a kind of second voice. Now one further smuggled excerpt seems designed to enlighten everyone: Cedar with coded details of potential rescue, and this reader as a guide to the heart of the book (how it functions, why it matters), when he says despite all the uncertainty and threat of this changed planet, he’s thrilled by the chance “to marvel at the vast dismantling, and do not want to kill myself so that I can see more of the world’s inner workings.” Erdrich dismantles strategies, icons, avatars, and tropes from many genres until we see the world anew – past, present, and future.
Faren C. Miller, Contributing Editor, worked full-time for Locus from 1981 to 2000, when she pulled up stakes and moved to Prescott, Arizona (a “mile-high city” not as widely known as that one in Colorado) with the man she subsequently married, Kerry Hanscom. She continues to review SF, fantasy, and horror — enjoying, analyzing, then forgetting all the details on a regular basis — and hopes to keep doing it for many years to come. Author of one fantasy, The Illusionists (Warner 1991), she is working on another which she’s confident will be finished before the next millennium rolls around.
This review and more like it in the December 2017 issue of Locus.