Thank you Ms. Erdrich. That was good.
Contributor
Written by
Donna Bryson
September 2018
Contributor
Written by
Donna Bryson
September 2018

Cedar Hawk Songmaker was born and lived all her life in Minneapolis. Yet she's never heard the music of ice breaking in the Mississippi River, and she’s seen just one snowfall.
It's not only the climate that's changing in Louise Erdrich's dystopian thriller. It's our very species. The novel takes the form of Cedar's so-long-a-letter to her unborn child, who may or may not be quite human.
Cedar says writing is "my only drug." Creativity is all that gives her hope and keeps her plotting to protect her child. Art isn't the opposite of science. It's its fuel.
"Be patient. Science doesn't have the answers right away. Truth takes time," Cedar tells her child in this sometimes brutal tale of a disquieting future told with humor and precise prose.
Perhaps it’s the plainspoken tone and comic moments. Perhaps it’s the mentions of the mighty Mississippi. Or that Cedar, who hovers on the border of adulthood, is a fugitive traveling on a kind of underground railroad for much of the book. She literally burrows beneath St. Paul in some passages. Whatever the reason, Erdrich brought Twain to mind. Future Home of the Living God could be read as a multicultural, feminist Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Jim is many pregnant women who have agency and no need of Huck.
Cedar may be both Huck and Jim. But she’s no orphan: She has, if anything, too many parents. Minneapolis liberals adopted her and gave her that poetic name. Cedar’s Ojibwe mother Sweetie called her Mary Potts. All of Cedar-Mary's parents meet on the reservation, where Sweetie and her husband run a convenience shop and gas station. 
"I watch as without a word Sweetie picks up a pair of clean plastic tongs and uses them to pluck a wiener off the hot moving bars of the countertop grill. Carefully, she puts the dog into its bun, pumps a line of ketchup and a line of mustard along its oily flank, then nestles the finished thing in a fluted paper rectangle. Sweetie then presents this hot dog to my adoptive mom.
"I freeze. I watch.
"Sera has often held forth on the thirty-nine different deadly carcinogens contained in cheap hot dogs such as the one she is holding now. The nitrates are implicated in esophageal and stomach cancer. The red dyes in systemic foul-ups, the binding agents are bad as warfarin, and among the preservatives there is formaldehyde. And then there is the meat itself. Animal scourings. Neural and spinal material likely to contain the prions that transmit Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Hog lips, snout, anus, penile sheaths, jowls, inner ears. I don’t know how to rescue her. For that hot dog is an innocent gesture of pride and conciliation. It says so much. Thank you for raising my daughter. Thank you for sending her back to me. I am grateful for this chance and want to be friends. That hot dog says all this and more. Yet it is a chilling object, a powerful nexus of poisons representative of dumb, brutish animal suffering.
"Sera raises the thing to her lips. I see her take a bite.
"One bite. Another. 
"She eats the whole thing, smiles, and says, 'Thank you. That was good.'
"Child, if ever I poke fun at or even gently deride my adoptive mom's fierce virtues, if you ever see me roll my eyes at one of her tirades or groan yeah, yeah when she makes a point I've heard a thousand times before, just remind me of that gas-station hot dog. The day she ate it all. It was a magnificent thing she did. I saw her, at that moment, as a hero."
Erdrich's characters, especially the women, display more dramatic feats of heroism. But it's the gas station scene that most resonates with me. Here in the disquieting real world we need reminders that basic decency matters and is possible.
Thank you, Ms. Erdrich. That was good.

 

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