There were literal Nazis marching in the streets this year and the number of people who believe the earth to be flat is growing. We've seen antebellum nostalgia, disregard for overwhelming evidence that our climate's boned, nuclear sabre rattling, and fervent attempts to rescind hard won reproductive rights. Just now, even, the CDC has outlawed the word "fetus." Overall, the tone of 2017 has been one of attempted reversal, a drive to regress, a repugnant, hateful want to go back to some vague notion of better (crueler) times.
In Louise Erdrich's Future Home of the Living God, such a rollback is literal. Evolution has not only stopped, but is going backwards. Children are being born with new (or old) DNA that proves a threat both to the women bearing them and the world at large. As winter fails to come, as the banks collapse and as most technology becomes unreliable, pregnant women are being rounded up, tested, incarcerated. What happens to their babies is uncertain.
Four months along, Cedar Hawk Songmaker -- an adopted Ojibwe child who, with a new interest in ancestry and genes, seeks out her birth mother -- begins to keep a diary for the baby growing inside of her as the world beyond her belly collapses. Erdrich's novel stands out from the recent barrage of dystopian books, as the dystopia is presented mostly ambiently instead of directly. In her home, in hospitals, in hiding places, the world without is in turmoil, but Cedar is more concerned on her world within.
Instead of the common action-packed fare we see a lot of, Future Home of the Living God is a feeling, ruminative book about parsing the essential from the temporary in life. But that's not say that the book is without action. When it's at its best, Erdirich's novel might offer a sense of direction to readers who're not sure whether the world's moving backwards or forwards lately.