Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

‘I’ll write this anyway, because ever since last week things have changed. Apparently—I mean, nobody knows—our world is running backward. Or forward. Or maybe sideways, in a way as yet ungrasped.’

Cedar Hawk Songmaker is 26 years old and four months pregnant when she starts the diary which comes to us as ‘Future Home of the Living God’. Evolution is suddenly running backwards. Prehistoric animals and insects are appearing, and human genetics are also affected. Most foetuses are non-viable, and most pregnancies are fatal. The United States government appears to have collapsed, while the Church of the New Constitution has taken over. Pregnant women are collected and imprisoned as the Church seeks control over the few normal babies born.

Cedar and the reader alike can only wonder about what has caused evolution to reverse and about what is happening in government. There are rumours and there are possibilities, but the constant is uncertainty: nobody knows exactly what is happening.

Cedar writes of what she sees and feels, of her journey to learn more about her birth parents, of her attempts to avoid incarceration. Cedar is part Ojibwe Indian but was raised by adoptive parents in Minneapolis. Society is in melt-down, but we can only view it through Cedar’s eyes. Who can she trust? And when she is betrayed, is escape still possible? Will the baby survive? Will Cedar?

As I read this novel, I kept thinking of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood (which I need to reread). Questions kept running through my mind about both the treatment of women and the treatment of Native Americans, about environmental disasters and failures of government.

For me, what made this novel most unsettling was the fact that Cedar’s perspective (and hence our view) of this increasingly alien but still familiar world is so limited. I may not be able to identify with many of the characters, but I recognise some of them.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith