Forget Yeats’ rough beast, slouching toward Bethlehem. In “Future Home of the Living God,” novelist Louise Erdrich’s dystopian parable of the way we live now, civilization and all its creatures are careening backward, even as the world ostensibly crawls forward.
In the future chronicled by Cedar Hawk Songmaker, a pregnant Native American writing a journal that her unborn child may never read, evolution has reversed course. Infants are losing the power of speech. Plants and animals increasingly resemble long-extinct fossils. Weird birds take flight, alongside dragonflies with 3-foot wingspans and softball-sized eyes.
“Our bodies have always remembered who we were,” muses Cedar. “And now they have decided to return. We’re climbing back down the swimming-pool ladder into the primordial soup.”
That’s bad news for pregnant women, rounded up by UPS — the Unborn Protection Society — on behalf of a shadowy theocracy calling itself the Church of the New Constitution.
The apparent goal: Preserve those increasingly rare offspring who somehow haven’t descended the evolutionary chain, while using childbearing women as breeders housing previously frozen embryos.
It all suggests Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”; as Erdrich writes in a note to her readers, it relates to a here and now of “white men in dark suits deciding crucial issues of women’s health.”
At its best, it also plays a variation on Erdrich’s great theme, experienced by so many of the Native American characters she’s created during her career: versions of the original sin through which invaders ruined indigenous cultures, murdering native peoples and stealing their land. This novel’s theocracy is yet another illustration of killers invoking God to destroy paradise.
Hence the late swerve — in a novel where we’ve spent much of our page-turning,…