Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
Future Home of the Living God
The first thing that happens at the end of the world is that we don’t know what is happening.
I LIVE IN Oklahoma, one of the reddest states in these United States. When an antiabortion activist scaled the fifty-story Devon skyscraper in downtown Oklahoma City, I wondered less why someone would take such an outlandish risk and more why someone would think to come to this state, of all states, to make his statement. It was June 14, 2022, and we were already living post-Roe, in a state that had weeks earlier earned the NPR headline “Oklahoma Governor Signs the Strictest Abortion Ban.”
In August, while browsing secondhand books, I picked up Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God (2017), a novel I had skipped, despite my love of her work. The reviews five years ago were mixed, but I wondered what it would be like to read this story of the capture and confinement of pregnant women now—post-Roe.
Cedar is a pregnant twenty-six-year-old woman living in Minneapolis near both her white adoptive parents and her Ojibwe birth mother. She’s writing to her future child, and the reader knows only what Cedar knows, which is very little since the community soon suffers a news blackout and can only exchange rumors. There is a looming apocalypse, and it may include evolutionary reversal. Cedar, whose pregnancy is now showing, is confined to her house because pregnant women are being seized by officers right off the streets under an extension of the Patriot Act. It is now a crime to harbor or help a pregnant woman. Those turning in a pregnant woman (tip line: Unborn Protection Society) receive an award; those who refuse to provide information are tortured.
We follow Cedar through her capture, institutional confinement, and escape and pick up fragments of what’s happening—using a credit card risks being tracked; prisons are now for pregnant women; Womb Volunteers are now forced to gestate “liberated” embryos; street names have been changed to Bible verses—all this while watching Cedar negotiate her relationships with both families. And despite the absence of a fully realized dystopian world, with all plot points neatly tied off, Erdrich delivers the engrossing plot development and well-developed characters found throughout her body of work.
Reading this while watching our rights rolled back, the book’s references to evolutionary reversal read less sci-fi and more metaphor. What is this event that’s leading to further incursions on a woman’s right to bodily autonomy? We don’t really know, but in 2022 it’s even easier to imagine the possibilities.
Managing & Culture Editor