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Stepping backwards
by Lucy Scholes January 12, 2018
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When Louise Erdrich’s new novel Future Home of the Living God opens, Cedar Hawk Songmaker — the 26-year-old “adopted child of Minneapolis liberals” — is four months pregnant. For the first time in her life, she’s moved to discover more about her biological parents, members of the Ojibwe tribe — not least because she wants to know if she should be on the lookout for any genetic abnormalities lying in wait for her unborn child.

It’s certainly the right time to be worrying about such issues since, on this occasion, Erdrich’s fictional world is that of a near future America marked by “biological chaos.” Evolution hasn’t simply stopped; it’s actually going backwards. This means a variety of things, from the appearance of strange prehistoric animals in backyards, through to an extension of the Patriot Act, under the Church of the New Constitution that’s now in charge of the US, which calls for “gravid female detention.” Thus, what begins as a story about motherhood and origins quickly metamorphoses into an action-packed escape adventure as Cedar fights for her freedom.

Given today’s conservative agenda in the US regarding women’s reproductive rights, it makes perfect sense, however, that Erdrich’s story is seeing the light of day now.

With the renewed interest in The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s impossible not to read Future Home of the Living God as a homage to Margaret Atwood’s genre-defining novel. There are also echoes of PD James’s dystopian novel about mass infertility, The Children of Men.

The problem, however, is that while both Atwood and James excel at the dystopian world-building that underlies their plots, Erdrich’s wider world never convinces. The introduction of every new detail comes hand in hand with a series of associated questions.

It’s testament to Erdrich’s considerable storytelling powers that I found myself eagerly turning each page to find out how Cedar’s story plays out, but there were simply too many unexplained absences and leaps in the plot, character development and scene-setting for this to rival the accomplishments of her previous works.

The Independent

CANTO BIGHT (STAR WARS): JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
by Saladin Ahmed, Mira Grant and John Jackson Miller

This casino city is the latest stop on the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Star Wars: Canto Bight consists of four very different novellas set in the Las Vegas of a galaxy far, far away, on the desert planet Cantonica, which has its first on-screen appearance in Episode VIII. This collection’s authors and editors deserve credit for the subtle links between the four stories. These give us a satisfying sense of the Canto Bight community and some nice narrative threads for readers, but never to the detriment of the story being told. Canto Bight doesn’t change the galaxy, but those who love all the small details and quirky characters of the Star Wars universe will enjoy at least three of the stories in this collection.

THE BOOK OF DUST: LA BELLE SAUVAGE
by Philip Pullman

For those who fell under the spell of Philip Pullman’s masterful His Dark Materials trilogy, it was a rich and heady experience. Pullman returns to this world with The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, the first of a prequel trilogy to his earlier series. The story has a long, slow build-up as we meet 11-year-old Malcolm, who works at his parents’ pub upriver from Oxford; teenage Alice, their surly kitchen help; and the nuns at a nearby priory who are sheltering a mysterious infant. But ominous clouds are gathering. Various parties want to get their hands on the infant Lyra, who is the subject of a powerful prophecy. The first instalment of The Book of Dust drops hints, but offers few answers. Fans of Pullman’s earlier series will not be able to resist the pull of this new novel that returns readers to his alternate Europe with its swirl of fantasy, steam punk and danger intertwined. But those hoping for a satisfying conclusion to the earlier trilogy will have to be content with this appetiser and hope that the next two instalments build to a full banquet.

BULL IN THE RING: FOOTBALL AND FAITH — REFUGE IN A TROUBLED TIME
by Joe Castellano

Our lives play out against a backdrop of history, but even the most engaged citizen pays far closer attention to the ups and downs of his own life than he does to the events that shape the world. So it was with the boys of the St. Louis University High class of 1970. The civil rights movement and the Vietnam War were impossible to ignore — and the Jesuit-trained kids did not want to ignore these things — but there were tests to take, girls to chase, and a state football championship to pursue. Joe Castellano, a co-captain of that football team, recounts the quest — and that time — in Bull in the Ring, a nonfiction account that is part sports story and part coming-of-age tale.
Bull in the Ring is his first book and captures the culture of an iconic St. Louis institution.
The Independent

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