...steeped as it is in dystopian darkness, Cedar’s diary is most remarkable for the amiable, heartfelt way in which it captures what’s familiar — in friendships and families, in communities and in nature. It is against this prosaic background, so artful in its seeming artlessness, that the loss anticipated in this novel registers in all its depth and sorrow.
Viscerally, bracingly, we recognize in Cedar’s journal entries (the means by which Erdrich tells her tale) the same miasma of anxiety and unease that Americans now breathe. This is fiction, of course; the details are not from our world. But the sensation is ... Plodding a bit as it traces Cedar’s newly expanded family (Sweetie, a stepfather, an ancient grandmother, a younger sister), the sometimes overloaded narrative is most vivid and suspenseful when it focuses fully on her pregnancy ... Once she is imprisoned, the story turns thrilling — because Cedar and the other captives have no intention of going along willingly, because a nine-month gestation period is a time bomb waiting to go off (one way or another, that baby will come out), and because Erdrich knows that hugely pregnant women are capable of tremendous daring.
Louise Erdrich’s quietly apocalyptic new novel, Future Home of the Living God, isn’t about a plague, exactly. But something sinister is happening to our blue planet ...a feverish and somewhat feeble novel. Erdrich’s heart isn’t really in her dystopian visions, and this novel’s scenes of chases and escapes are hokey and feel derived from films ... To read this novel is to wade through a great many solemnities...funny thing about this not-very-good novel is that there are so many good small things in it ...her sentences can flash with wit and feeling, sunbursts of her imagination ... Signs and portents, auguries and premonitions. Erdrich’s novel is packed with them, push notices from an onrushing nightmare.
Erdrich's gift for innovation has paid off in the past, but her latest novel, Future Home of the Living God, is an overreaching, frequently bizarre book that never really comes close to getting off the ground ...Cedar's freedom doesn't last long, and the rest of Future Home of the Living God tells the story of her desperate attempts to escape the hospital in which she's imprisoned ...the novel has the structure of a successful thriller ...writing is oddly flat, and occasionally inexplicable ... Too much of the novel reads like stoned dorm room philosophizing; Erdrich's writing can be pretty, but it's too often unclear what exactly she's talking about ...a deeply frustrating novel, all the more so because Erdrich is capable of much better than this.
...[a] fascinating if not entirely satisfying novel ... Unfortunately, too many moments in Erdrich’s novel are rushed through without sufficient explanation or elaboration ... Because of the diary form, the novel’s perspective is limited to what Cedar experiences personally or hears about, which also results in tantalizing plot points that aren’t followed through ... I couldn’t help wondering what was in the pages that Erdrich cut, and whether, had this book not been brought out so quickly, the loose ends might have come together in a more satisfying way. Still, the urgency of this novel’s subject matter goes a long way to compensate for its flaws.
...[an] hallucinatory novel ... The Handmaid’s Tale–like setup provides a fresh, eerie canvas for Erdrich’s enduring themes: the 'collage of dreams and DNA' we inherit and pass on to our children, the normalization of appalling cruelty, and a certain human irreducibility that persists in spite of it all.
...the political and environmental context is only vaguely and rarely hinted at in Future Home. Erdrich is not so much tantalizing as miserly with the details of her fantastical conceit. 'Nobody knows exactly what is happening,' Cedar says, and neither do we. Throughout the novel, we’re kept largely in the dark with her as she hides or flees from people out to capture her and steal her unborn baby. Her plight is intermittently exciting. Whom can she trust? Who might betray her next? But the novel remains weirdly depth-resistant ... Perhaps the problem stems from this novel’s abnormally long and then rushed gestation period. Maybe it suffers from the conflicting motives of wanting to make a point but knowing that polemical novels are a drag. Or maybe if Future Home weren’t sitting next to Erdrich’s masterpieces, such as The Plague of Doves and The Round House, along with Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, it wouldn’t seem so slack and minor.
In this feverish cautionary tale, Erdrich enters the realm of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), Emily Schultz’s The Blondes (2015), Edan Lepucki’s California (2014), Laura van den Berg’s Find Me (2015), and Claire Vaye Watkins’ Gold, Fame, Citrus (2015), infusing her masterful, full-tilt dystopian novel with stinging insights into the endless repercussions of the Native American genocide, hijacked spirituality, and the ongoing war against women’s rights. A tornadic, suspenseful, profoundly provoking novel of life’s vulnerability and insistence.
In the hands of a lesser writer, this scenario could devolve into melodrama. Instead, Erdrich’s lucid prose propels her nail-biting plot with passionate but precise movement. As one series of events unfolds, other complications present themselves. All the while, Erdrich’s incredible empathy for her characters allows them to shine as both wholly complex and warmly familiar individuals trapped by circumstance. This harrowing novel sinks so deeply into your subconscious, you cannot help but finish it with an incredible degree of dread ... Erdrich joins the esteemed ranks of Margaret Atwood, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and others who present a horrific fictional world that seems possible if we do not protect our democratic institutions.
...it all sounds sort of like The Handmaid’s Tale, looming large in the culture right now due to its television adaptation on Hulu. But while Atwood imagined her dystopia in nauseating specificity, Erdrich’s remains unclear and oddly derivative ...characters are the best thing about Future Home of the Living God — first among them, its complex, deeply intelligent and witty narrator, Cedar ... Incarceration, escape and life-and-death situations ensue. This part of the book was so chilling that it gave me nightmares ... In the meantime, her wisdom, her humor and her storytelling fire make even one of her lesser works worth reading.
Certain parts of Future Home feel both rushed and incomplete, maybe because the original 500-page manuscript was reworked so quickly on the heels of last year’s epic LaRose. But Erdrich operating at less than full capacity is still a stunner: a writer whose words carry a spiritual weight far beyond science, or fiction.
Erdrich establishes her surprising and surprisingly funny book’s specifics in lucid language and gripping scenes ... Among the book’s many strengths are its urgency and suspense as well as the immediacy of its voice ... Even as the plot rounds all of the potentially done-to-death dystopian bases — end-times hoarding, the government seizure of media outlets, vast ecological devastation, a scrappy band of resisters — Erdrich’s sense of humor manages to make the darkness fresh and plausible ... Erdrich applies her stinging perspective to remind readers how much has happened, how much keeps happening and how far humans have yet to go.
If parts of this novel are pulpier than Erdrich’s previous work, the result is still a chilling work of speculative fiction and a bracing cautionary tale about environmental deterioration and the importance of women’s control of their own bodies.
More than any other Erdrich novel, this is a fast-paced adventure tale. Observations about faith and family crop up only in the pauses between one peril after another. For that reason, the prose, with few exceptions, is far more streamlined than the customary Erdrich lyricism. These sentences are crafted to keep the action marching forward. The plot, with its episodes of stealth, flight and capture, borders on the improbable. But who’s to say what forms of subjugation and heroism American authoritarianism may someday produce? As tough and resilient as Cedar Hawk proves to be, she faces two unrelenting foes, a regime with no regard for individuality, let alone women, and a climate just as merciless. Erdrich finally gives her poetic voice free rein when her heroine recalls the beauty of Minnesota winters past.
Reading the first 50 pages, with all their satire and humor, I was humming R.E.M.’s 'It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).' But as the novel progressed, I came to understand that it would be grimmer than other dystopian novels I’d read and, because of its recognizable ordinariness at the outset, more terrifying ... Future Home fully conveys the intensity of pregnancy during an apocalypse — if it can feel harrowing for an individual mother in normal circumstances, how much more earth-shattering must it be when you’re carrying one of the last fully evolved humans? The conceit of a mother writing to her unborn child is well executed, and the nature of impending motherhood is handled with care and accuracy ... But the political concepts in Future Home are not fleshed out enough to comment effectively on our current moment ... As a gifted author’s flawed, experimental foray into dystopian fiction, it illustrates an important distinction between dystopian writing that arises from dreams and fantasy and that which arises from observation.
In Louise Erdrich’s philosophical yet propulsive 16th novel, Future Home of the Living God, the source of the chaos is harder to pinpoint ...does bear a strong resemblance to the dystopias of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Year of the Flood ...interweaves the plot with Ojibwe folklore and writings by Catholic thinkers like Thomas Merton, spiritual lifelines for Cedar as she plots her survival ...as much a thriller as it is a religious-themed literary novel — it thrives on narrow escapes, surprise character appearances, and a perpetual sense of peril ... Braiding the two styles sometimes feels ungainly — Cedar’s family portraits feel incomplete, as does Erdrich’s depiction of how crazed the world has become. But her overall narrative is effective and cannily imagined.
Erdrich’s dystopia in Future Home inevitably calls up comparison with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, especially when that fine novel has seen a renaissance in print and on screen this year. There are similarities, but Atwood paints a world where the enslavement of women is accomplished fact, where a theocratic dictatorship has established order and handed out the uniforms. Erdrich focuses on an earlier stage in that process, the frightening historical moment when the old order collapses but only disorder has so far emerged in its wake. She skillfully conveys the cold dread that permeates a world where every assumption is undermined and anyone could be a betrayer.
...a novel that’s stuffed with intriguing ideas but uneven in advancing them and often unsure where to go next (or how to end) ... they all largely remain a mystery, in a novel where the plotting isn’t sure and where it’s never entirely clear why and how so much goes wrong so quickly. What’s both clear and inspiring is Cedar’s own abiding belief in a future; having long ago had an abortion and tempted early on to end the life she now carries, she chooses instead to carry on, convinced that 'we have survived because we love beauty and because we find each other beautiful.'”
"Cedar narrates the novel in a diary intended for her child, ‘a record and an inquiry into the strangeness of things.’ Her tone shifts between girlish self-absorption, excitement at the forthcoming birth, irritation with her parents and increasing terror at the jeopardy she finds herself in … Erdrich explores magical and religious realities in a contemporary, political world … Erdrich is a prolific novelist, a star of North American literature who should be better known in the UK. Her storytelling and political insight make Future Home of the Living God a new classic of the genre. It is a horribly plausible novel for our times.
The resilience and potential treachery of our genes is one of the novel’s most insistent themes. While Cedar goes in search of her biological heritage, society is suffering a genetic catastrophe: evolution has stopped progressing and appears to be reversing … The rapid, almost overnight decline of society feels too sketchy … Though the narrative often sparkles with dry humour and Erdrich writes beautifully of the ferocity of maternal feeling and the terrors of pregnancy, it reads as if she has tried to cram in too many ideas in and with too little room to breathe. She is undoubtedly a writer of great skill and imagination, but this novel feels as if it hasn’t quite fully evolved.
Louise Erdrich’s 16th novel follows its own, carefully imagined rules but also obliquely refers to the state of America today … Erdrich’s narrative is not derivative or pulpy but its scenes are fast, visual, action-packed, perfect for film. And Cedar, like Sarah, is angry, fugitive, both powerless and brave, and ultimately a hero-mother in this chilling book, which is at once a dystopia and a state-of-the-nation novel.
Known for her fluid novels of families, reservation life and Catholic faith, Erdrich is new to speculative fiction. Future Home owes a debt to Margaret Atwood and P.D. James, but Erdrich makes her own mark on the material ... Some threads are left unresolved by the time this short novel ends. Erdrich may be setting up a sequel, or leaving her options open. While the final pages are beautifully written, the unanswered questions feel unsatisfying rather than intriguing. Still, this is a journey worth taking and a worthy addition to contemporary apocalyptic fiction.
Like some of Erdrich’s earlier work, it shifts adroitly in time and has a thoughtful, almost mournful insight into life on a Native reservation. If Erdrich hasn’t previously ventured into tropes normally employed by sci-fi writers, she doesn’t show the inexperience here. There is much to rue in this novel about our world but also hope for salvation: 'I think we have survived because we love beauty and because we find each other beautiful,' as the novel's protagonist puts it. 'I think it may be our strongest quality.'”
Erdrich’s characters are brave and conscientious, but none of them really come across as people; they act mostly as vehicles for Erdrich’s ideas. Those ideas, however—reproductive freedom, for one, and faith in and respect for the natural world—are strikingly relevant. Erdrich has written a cautionary tale for this very moment in time.