Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Louise Erdrich's 'Future Home of the Living God'

I have been reading Louise Erdrich's 2017 novel Future Home of the Living God, and I am pleasantly surprised at how good it is. Not that I necessarily expected anything bad from Erdrich. It's just that I have never read any of her books, and so had no expectations at all, other than the fact that, a couple of years ago, I must have read a review of this book somewhere and I was obviously intrigued by the plot summary and someone else's opinion of it.

And it is an intriguing premise. A young 20-something woman of Indigenous parentage, who has been living a life of relative ease with her thoughtful, progressive, almost-too-good-to-be-true, adopted parents in suburban Minneapolis, finds herself pregnant at a time when the world is going through a strange and inexplicable upheaval: it seems that evolution is suddenly starting to go backwards, and quickly, and no-one is quite sure why, how quickly, and just what the practical implications might be. At this time of extreme uncertainty and stress, then, the young woman, who had already surprised herself by converting to Catholicism some years earlier, seeks out her birth parents in order to better understand herself, and to give her future baby some context to its own life. 

Life then starts to get even more complicated when shadowy government departments begin to exhibit excessive interest in any new pregnancies. Rumours of mutations and abductions swirl, society starts to crack at the seams, militias are formed, communications break down, and very soon we are in full post-apocalypse territory.

The whole reversing evolution thing, unlikely as it is, is not belaboured, and the theory behind it is not the point of the book. It is the internal world of the young woman that really interests Erdrich and, in turn, us. Incidentally, Erdrich is a Chippewa-Ojibwe on her mother's side, so she is "allowed" to write from the perspective of a Native American.

A couple of little snippets, to give a flavour of the language:

"I am more comfortable with the before-ness and the after-ness of life. I am happier dissecting the past or dreading the future. I really have no proficiency at experiencing the present... I have to treat myself like a skittish horse. An animal ready to bolt at the sight of the big picture. Stick to the periphery. Pull on a comforting set of blinders."

"My voice is fake. She starts to cry although she doesn't really cry, just gives a little splutter. I smooth her hair back around her ear. She shakes her head as if to shake me off. I'm still patronizing her, talking lightly, rummaging around for tea. She answers me with one of her lectures, like the amateur pedant she's always been."

Biggest disappointment? A recognized author writing a sentence like, "The oil company could care less who's in charge." Not in the demotic voice of one of the characters, but in the author's own voice. Does she think that this is an acceptable grammatical sentence? (I hope not.) Is she being ironic? (I don't think so.) Is this just me flagging a pet peeve? (Probably.)

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