Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

I’ve been hearing that this book is similar to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Well, that is one of my favourite books of all time, so you know I’m going to be interested in any novel connected to it! Compared to all of the other books on my TBR list, this looked like the shortest, and since I loved the material, I figured it would be a good place to start. Here is my review:

 

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Synopsis (Goodreads): 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. Twenty-six-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.


Review: While I knew that there would be a strong focus on the pregnancy issue, I was hoping that there would be an equally strong focus on the devolution taking place. That didn’t happen. Instead, this was a story that just gave more detail to The Handmaid’s Tale. 

Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Handmaid’s Tale is a story that doesn’t really take too much time to show how things got to where they were. In Future Home of the Living God, we get to see from Cedar’s perspective how things started to shift into chaos and what led to the corralling of all fertile women. I just wish this had been done better.

Part 1 of the book is really tedious to get through. The story, told entirely from Cedar’s perspective, is in the form of a diary/letter that she is writing for her unborn child. But she just prattles on and on about things that I don’t necessarily care about. I did appreciate reading about her inner turmoil about her present situation, as well as the glimpses of the unease that was settling in around the country as people tried to get a handle on this devolution situation. But I wish there had been more of that. I wanted more instances of devolving, more of how everyone was researching this phenomenon, and the rationale behind herding pregnant women in and taking their babies. There was this time when Cedar decides to go visit her birth parents, which was interesting … but it felt very disconnected with the things happening around her.

Part 2 of the book was more interesting because there was a lot more action, and a lot less philosophizing. Again, the focus was on the pregnancy rather than the environmental changes but at least it was fast-paced and filled with fervor and action. This was the dystopian thriller aspect that I had been promised and I enjoyed it immensely.

But then came Part 3, and it was more of the same of Part 1. There’s very little that actually happens and just more talking and musing. Gone was the survival mode that I had enjoyed from Part 2. It was very difficult for me to finish this last part, because I just couldn’t care. The ending of the novel was also extremely disappointing for me, because nothing was resolved. In a sense, this ending would probably have been a great segue or introduction into how things are set up in The Handmaid’s Tale. But I don’t think that was what the author had in mind.

There were 2 main reasons that I was really upset about this story. One is that I really didn’t like Cedar. She is an aloof character, making it hard to connect with her. Even though more than half of the book is her talking about her thoughts and opinions, I never actually felt like I understood her. One minute, she is talking about religion and God and DNA, and then she’s going on about how she must survive and her survival skills flit in, and then they just disappear and she goes back to philosophizing. None of it was useful, none of it was insightful. It just bogged the story down. The second thing I didn’t like is that the different parts did not come together to create a cohesive story. Part 1 and 3 should be grouped as one thing because of their whole theme of literary fiction, and Part 2 should be the actual dystopian story.

Overall, I found this to be a vague story about a situation where we somehow end up reversing evolution, and for some reason this means that all fertile women must be rounded up and made to give birth. There was too much of a literary component to this story that didn’t add anything substantial, and too little uniqueness to the dystopian story. It was disappointing. I’m giving it a 1.5/5 stars, and that’s only because Part 2 had some adventure to it.

Happy reading ~

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