Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich: A review

How do you decide what books to read? I read reviews by reviewers whom I respect. I take recommendations from family and friends who know what I like to read. I look at the best sellers lists. I look at the magazine Bookmarks, which compiles reviews from various places and assigns a rating to books. And then I choose from all those sources the books that appeal to me and that I think I might enjoy reading. It's a system that works well for me. I rarely pick up a book to read that turns out to be a total stinker.

And then there are some favorite authors that I will read regardless of what the reviews say or whether anyone recommends them. Louise Erdrich falls in that category.

Her latest book, Future Home of the Living God, got very mixed reviews and, for the most part, they were not kind. Bookmarks' assessment, after compiling the reviews, was "Not recommended, even for Erdrich fans." But I was undeterred.

I thought the book had an interesting concept. It seems that the world as we know it is ending and evolution is reversing itself. The birds in the sky are becoming more dinosaur-like, reverting to Archaeopteryx type. Cougars are becoming more saber-tooth cat-like. And humans? Well, that is the question. Are they destined to go all the way back to Australopithicene form? And just how did this reversal of evolution come about? The answer to that question is, in fact, one of the many holes in the plot.

Erdrich tells her story through the character of Cedar Hawk Songmaker, an Ojibwe woman who was adopted as a child by a white liberal upper middle class Minneapolis couple. When we meet Cedar, she is four months pregnant and in hiding with the child's father, Phil. The narrative is told through a diary which Cedar is writing for her unborn child. 

The United States has elected a repressive religious government that closely monitors pregnant women through a robot called "Mother" and all pregnant women are forced to report to a government birthing center. Cedar is trying to avoid that. But she feels compelled to go and meet and get to know her birth family on the reservation.

Soon she is discovered and imprisoned in one of the birthing centers. Her efforts to escape complete the main action of this (very) dystopian novel.

Erdrich started writing this novel in 2002 and abandoned it. Last year, after the election of 2016, she was inspired to pick it up and finish it. Unfortunately, I never really got the sense that Erdrich had committed herself to the story. It felt rushed and incomplete and there were holes in the plot that one could drive a truck through. I think she might have been well advised to leave it back in 2002.

Louise Erdrich is such a gifted writer and even here her brilliant way with words shines though and we get flashes of that imagination and wit which make reading her books a special experience, but in the end, this effort just fell flat and I have to concur with Bookmarks' assessment: "Not recommended, even for Erdrich fans."

I'll still read her next book though.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars 

4 comments:

  1. Too bad your first book of the year was a total disappointment, though I feel discouraged only when it happens in a row; for now you are OK. It's so bad when our favorite authors don't commit fully to the stories! :-(

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    1. Actually, this one was my last read of 2017, so I ended on a down note. My first read of 2018 was rather amazing and I hope to get my review up before the weekend.

      Louise Erdrich rarely disappoints. In fact, this was the first time. I won't hold it against her.

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  2. I, like you, will read anything Louise Erdrich writes. And I will try this one soon despite all reasons not to. In My Big Fat Reading Project I read a lot of first novels. They are sometimes very clearly a first novel. So I wonder: this would be her first apocalyptic novel, right? Maybe she will continue and write a zinger1

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    1. It is her first novel with an apocalyptic theme. I'm not sure why there was a gap of some fourteen years between starting and completing it. The book started strong for me and I was wondering where all those bad reviews came from, but about a third of the way through, I began to have real problems with the plot and finally it all just kind of fell apart for me. Still, I'm glad I read it.

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