Forget Yeats’ tough beast, slouching towards Bethlehem. In “Future Home of the Living God,” novelist Louise Erdrich’s dystopian parable of the best way we stay now, civilization and all its creatures are careening backward, even because the world ostensibly crawls ahead.
In the longer term chronicled by Cedar Hawk Songmaker, a pregnant Native American writing a journal that her unborn baby might by no means learn, evolution has reversed course. Infants are dropping the facility of speech. Plants and animals more and more resemble long-extinct fossils. Weird birds take flight, alongside dragonflies with Three-foot wingspans and softball-sized eyes.
“Our bodies have always remembered who we were,” muses Cedar. “And now they have decided to return. We’re climbing back down the swimming-pool ladder into the primordial soup.”
That’s dangerous information for pregnant women, rounded up by UPS — the Unborn Protection Society — on behalf of a shadowy theocracy calling itself the Church of the New Constitution.
The obvious aim: Preserve these more and more uncommon offspring who one way or the other haven’t descended the evolutionary chain, whereas utilizing childbearing women as breeders housing beforehand frozen embryos.
It all suggests Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”; as Erdrich writes in a notice to her readers, it pertains to a right here and now of “white men in dark suits deciding crucial issues of women’s health.”
At its greatest, it additionally performs a variation on Erdrich’s nice theme, skilled by so most of the Native American characters she’s created throughout her profession: variations of the unique sin by way of which invaders ruined indigenous cultures, murdering native peoples and stealing their land. This novel’s theocracy is yet one more illustration of killers invoking God to destroy paradise.
Hence the late swerve — in a novel the place we’ve spent a lot of our page-turning, heart-thumping time rooting for Cedar to stay free — to fantasies of native peoples taking again their land whereas governments round them disintegrate.
It’s a theme Erdrich introduces after which doesn’t pursue, in a novel that’s full of intriguing concepts however uneven in advancing them and sometimes not sure the place to go subsequent (or find out how to finish).
There’s one other narrative strand involving Cedar’s liberation-theology Catholicism; Erdrich incessantly introduces Catholic tropes and themes in her work, though they’re often extra developed and built-in.
We’re additionally given an insightful portrait of a wedding, suggesting that the best-intentioned and most feminist of males will lose their approach in a patriarchy that erodes relationships and belief whereas destroying equality.
Best of all, we’re handled to a puckishly comedian tradition conflict earlier than the world goes absolutely incorrect; Erdrich playfully skewers the white and crunchy Minnesota liberals who increase Cedar, whereas turning an equally satirical eye on her native household up north.
These Ojibwe relations embrace a gothic teen sister; a clever, tale-telling grandmother; a once-wild organic mom elevating cash for a saint’s shrine; and a sensible and quirky stepfather engaged on a Three,000-plus-page manuscript, in which each web page options an argument for not killing oneself.
This native household does an admirable job of standing up because the world falls down; I’d have gladly spent extra time attending to know any of them, together with Cedar’s adoptive mom or the daddy of Cedar’s baby.
But all of them largely stay a thriller, in a novel the place the plotting isn’t positive and the place it’s by no means totally clear why and the way a lot goes mistaken so shortly.
What’s each clear and galvanizing is Cedar’s personal abiding perception in a future; having way back had an abortion and being tempted early on to finish the life she now carries, she chooses as an alternative to hold on, satisfied that “we have survived because we love beauty and because we find each other beautiful.”
Beauty’s promise, Cedar decides, is well worth the danger of seize and demise. The world could also be going to hell; as Cedar’s adopted mom tells her, we might already be dwelling in hell. But as Erdrich has eloquently advised so many occasions, that’s all of the extra cause to decide on life.