Sunday, November 26, 2017

Future Home of the Living God

Future Home of the Living God / Louise Erdrich
New York: HarperCollins, c2017.
267 p.

Oh, I was so looking forward to reading this book -- I love Erdrich's style, and the summary was so compelling: 
The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Thirty-two-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.
But I just couldn't get into it. 

It was at times a fast and  exciting read; but then there were sections that dragged enormously. Both when Cedar hides out in her small, tucked away house early on, and when she is eventually discovered and locked up in the hospital, the story stalls with her inaction and focus on her internal life (that and her ever-loving fixation with her Catholic theology magazine that she still edits up until the last second possible even as the world descends into chaos). In between there are some intriguing threads but they just weren't followed up enough, for me. 

The whole premise of the book was simply stated but it wasn't developed enough. Who exactly is looking for pregnant women, and why? What exactly is happening to women and their babies? And what is the deal with the oblique mentions of white or ethnic births? I couldn't decipher which one was supposed to be more likely to non-evolve -- though with all else that was going on I am assuming the new theocracy thought white was better? Who knows, the intent was not clear in the narrative. 

It was as if the focus on Cedar's internal, philosophical and family concerns overrode any scientific rationale for the story -- evolution is going backwards because *wah wah wah* Charlie Brown Teacher voice. It just is, so you have to run with it as a reader. But I couldn't. I needed a bit more structure and explanation of the 'new world' to really buy into the scenario.

Also, the most interesting element of the story is Cedar's discovery of her birth family; when Erdrich is writing about them and their life on the reserve both before and after the big shift, there is life and humour and vitality. I'd have preferred to read about them and how their community was dealing with the political shift, I think there'd have been more to say from that perspective, at least more that I'd have found engaging. 

I suppose I'm just not all that interested in reading about the daily details of being pregnant and being tracked by a surveillance government -- they both involve a lot of anxiety and waiting around. 

Also, the book is putatively Cedar's diary to her unborn child, so the writing is diary-like and in Cedar's voice. Erdrich manages to stay 'in character', so to speak, but this means that her beautiful style is really cramped by writing in Cedar's style. There were a few golden moments, and some prescient, quotable bits to enjoy, but otherwise pretty functional writing.

So while I desperately wanted to read and love this book, I was in the end only mildly impressed. I enjoyed reading it overall, but there are so many questions left unanswered even in the vaguest ways that it was frustrating to try to figure it out after I'd finished. Also the conclusion was supremely unsatisfying for me. I hope there is a follow-up to this that can flesh out this world a little more, and give us the rest of Cedar's story. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Flush: a mystery

Flush: an environmental mystery / Sky Curtis
Toronto: Inanna, c2017.
260 p.

This is a mystery novel that's light on the mystery even though there is a murder; it's more interested in the way the crime changes the life of garden/lifestyle journalist Robin MacFarland.

After Robin is given the chance to cover a press conference by a hydro-energy company alongside her more hard-hitting colleague, she feels like her career is picking up. Coincidentally she also meets up for coffee with the company spokesperson a day later, after connecting on an online dating site.

Then he turns up dead.

Robin tries to figure out what is going on, hoping to be promoted to the crime desk via this story. She partners up with her best work friend Cindy (the actual crime reported) and gets up to all sorts of stake-out, suspect interrogation, investigative shenanigans. 

She finds that although it doesn't come naturally, she's getting better at it... and her sense of intuition about people's characters & motivation is second to none. She makes some key guesses that end up leading to the solution, and that nearly get her killed. 

It's a unique mystery, ranging all over its Toronto setting and incorporating both the world of journalism and police investigators. Robin is a middle-aged, stolid woman with a drinking problem, looking for love via online dating sites. She has body image issues and a bit of trauma from her married years. Yet she is a loyal friend and a curious person overall.

For me, though, this was a very light novel. I didn't really warm to Robin, partly because of her body issues. Right near the very beginning of the novel she is moaning about how fat and dumpy and ugly and old she is. It's a really over the top, lengthy rant. At the end of this dirge, she states how tall and how heavy she actually is in fact, and surprise, she is exactly the same size as me. So forgive me if I was annoyed with her from the start! Also, I can understand someone's unhappy but she is almost ridiculously fixated on her size and her drinking problem, which she never actually does anything about until the end of the book, when she just up and decides she will reduce her alcohol consumption. Oh if only it were that easy.

There were a few red herrings in the book that went nowhere, and a few revelations that would have helped the reader solve the mystery earlier if they'd been seeded in a bit sooner. So while it's not a perfect book, nor a perfect mystery, it did have some interesting side characters and a very complete Toronto setting. Worth reading for those aspects. 

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

11th Annual CanBook Challenge : November Roundup

1. Click on the icon above

2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)

3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as Melwyk (Anne of Green Gables) 

4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

5. In the comment section below, note whether you've read a book which meets the monthly challenge set via email for participants.