I have to blurt out right from the start that this is the best novel I have read in a long time. How I came to read it was unusual. I had started another novel, a highly acclaimed novel in fact, and it just didn’t hold my interest. The premise was fascinating, but the prose was pedestrian, mundane, boring, uninspired – I might even say pulpish. There’s nothing wrong with pulp fiction – it has its place – but this particular story and subject deserved much better. I got about one hundred pages in and it was a real slog. I kept thinking that I was supposed to like it. I kept wondering when it would all fall together and start to hum with life. Alas, it never did. So I finally found this book by Erdrich at the library and dropped the other one. Unusual move for me, to leave a book before finishing it. But whatever.
As soon as I started reading Future Home of the Living God I knew I’d found the real deal. Erdrich has a wonderful fluid writing style, and her characters come off as real people. Within a few sentences I was hooked, and the fascination and suspense didn’t let up at any point in the narrative.
Native American Erdrich is renowned as a literary writer, and this science fictional near future dystopia is a departure for her. In the story, evolution has stalled or reversed itself. Few women become pregnant, and of those who do, even fewer give birth to live, normal babies. The narrator is a Native American woman who was adopted by white middle class parents. Early on in her pregnancy, she learns about and visits her Native American mother and her family, so she has two sets of parents looking out for her in the crisis that follows. In the wake of this disaster, pregnant women are rounded up and imprisoned, and other women of childbearing age are drafted and sent to special facilities to attempt to conceive and bear children. The government has mutated and become some sort of evil Big Brother whose minions put on sickening smiling faces to hide their evil deeds. The narrator attempts to evade capture while her pregnancy becomes more and more noticeable.
The idea is not new. One treatment of a similar theme that comes to mind is in the acclaimed movie Children of Men. What makes this story special is the talent that Erdrich brings to the narration. She is an amazing writer. Not a word is misplaced. She has the ability to hold your attention and your heartstrings in a firm grip and not let go. It was such a pleasant surprise to dive into this novel after being so disappointed in the previous one, to come to the realization that this is how it is supposed to be done. This is a wonderful book; I can’t praise it enough and I highly recommend it.