New York: HarperCollins, c2017.
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.