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Laurie Hertzel is senior editor for books at the Star Tribune, where she has worked since 1996.

A rainy night with Louise Erdrich

Photo by Laurie Hertzel

Tuesday evening was mild and rainy, a night of wonderful book events all over town – poet Solmaz Sharif at the Loft, Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen at the University of St. Thomas, novelist Edward Kelsey Moore at the Rondo Public Library—but in Minneapolis’ Kenwood neighborhood the sanctuary of St. Paul’s Church on Lake of the Isles was packed to the rafters.

And when Louise Erdrich ventured up front to the microphone to tell people that the women’s bathroom wasn’t working, and to show them where they could find more chairs, the place erupted in whistles, cheers and applause.

She looked abashed. “I’m not really here yet,” she said.

It took another half hour for people to collect their pre-paid autographed copies of Erdrich’s latest book, “Future Home of the Living God,” and squeeze into the overpacked pews. Everything started late, but nobody seemed to mind waiting.

And then Erdrich came back out, and this time she really was there. Before she began her reading, she asked that people take a moment to think about Jason Pero, a 14-year-old boy from Wisconsin’s Bad River Reservation, who had been shot by police a few days before.

 “We can’t let that go," she said. "This is a young boy who is described as a big teddy bear. I just want it to be known.”

After a few moments, she turned to her book. “Future Home of the Living God,” which went on sale Tuesday, is set in Minneapolis of the near-future, a time when evolution has begun to go backwards—the climate has changed dramatically, saber-toothed tigers are roaming the wooded areas of the city, and women of child-bearing age are in particular demand (in a chilling way).

When she started working on the book in 2002 and began imaginging this dystopian world, “the first thing I could see was that reproduction would become an issue of state’s importance,” Erdrich said. “Of course, it seems that reproduction has already become an issue of state’s importance.”

The narrator of the book is Mary Potts, aka Cedar Hawk Songmaker, a 26-year-old Native American woman who had been adopted by a wealthy, liberal south Minneapolis couple. (They are the ones who gave her the name Cedar.) She is pregnant, and that puts her in grave danger. 

“We have a hero who is on the run and getting bigger and bigger and clumsier and clumsier as things close in on her,” Erdrich said.

And then Erdrich read a harrowing section from early in the book when Cedar and the father of her child venture out of hiding to buy Subway sandwiches and watch the authorities snatch a pregnant woman off the street, stuff her in a car, and drive off.

Because Erdrich is Erdrich, and slyly funny, she next read a hilarious section, with Eddy (Cedar's stepfather up on the Rez) reading Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot" at the gas station where he works. "People buying gas at the Superpumper sometimes catch the title and ask if it's his autobiography," she read and then continued with an excerpt from Eddy's 3,000-page memoir, a section called "Even Gas-Station Food Can Save You."

("Today I did not kill myself because of the sweet foam on the top of a cheap cardboard cup of cappuccino...")

The final section--a sort of story-within-a-story--Erdrich dedicated to her brother-in-law, a physician whose birthday it was and who, she said, "spends a lot of time doctoring on the Turtle Mountain reservation."

And then she was done. She decided against taking questions, since the evening had started late and the room was so crowded. "I appreciate your coming," she told the crowd. "Every single person."

Book about Janesville, Wis., wins Financial Times best book of the year

Amy Goldstein in conversation with Common Good Books' Aaron Rosenberg in May 2017.

Amy Goldstein in conversation with Common Good Books' Aaron Rosenberg in May 2017 in St. Paul.

Washington Post reporter Amy Goldstein spent five years researching "Janesville: An American Story," which was published this spring by Simon & Schuster. The book traces the ripple effect, over time, of the closing of the General Motors assembly plant, the town's major employer. Goldstein followed the lives of townspeople, including laid-off workers, job counselors, students, and others.

Last night in New York the book was awarded the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award.

"It is an American story, as the subtitle suggests," said Dominic Barton, global managing partner of McKinsey & Co, who presented the award, "but also a truly global one."

Goldstein was awarded a check for 30,000 English pounds (about $39,000) and each of the five runners-up received 10,000 pounds (about $13,000).

"I am honored that the definition of a business book is expansive enough to encompass the story of the effects of vanished jobs on ordinary people and their community," Goldstein said this morning in an email. 

The runners up include "The Spider Network," by David Enrich; "Adaptive Markets," by Andrew W. Lo; "The One Device," by Brian Merchant; "Reset," by Ellen Pao, and "The Great Leveler," by Walter Scheidel.

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