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From the archives

Pax Atlantica

NATO’s long-lasting relevance

A Larger Role for Unions

Organized labour may be shrinking but the rhetoric is still upbeat

This United League

Will not die, will not perish

Motor City Meltdown

Catherine Leroux’s alternative history

Stacey May Fowles

The Future

Catherine Leroux; Translated by Susan Ouriou

Biblioasis

312 pages, softcover, ebook, and audiobook

In The Future’s reimagined history, the French never ceded Fort Détroit to the British in 1760, and the British never ceded it to the United States as part of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Instead, the community has remained proudly French Canadian for centuries. (“Never forget we were two shakes away from becomin’ American,” a current resident proclaims.) But while the Motor City was once “full of people, full of music, full of words,” it now struggles in economic ruin — ravaged by pollution, poverty, and crime. It is “a place devoid of faith or law,” with poison in the river and pictures of missing children posted everywhere.

Against this bleak backdrop, Catherine Leroux’s latest novel — published as L’avenir in 2020 and now translated into English by the award-winning Susan Ouriou — centres on heartbroken and beleaguered Gloria, who is reeling after the murder of her estranged daughter, Judith, and the disappearance of her young granddaughters, Cassandra and Mathilda. Gloria moves into Judith’s derelict house, cleans it room by room, and tries to recover from the loss. She begins piecing together the events that led to her daughter’s death while she tries to locate the missing kids.

In solidarity, her new neighbours assist. They include Francelin, the self-appointed “guardian of the neighbourhood’s abandoned homes,” and Eunice, whose father is killed in a hit and run ten days after Gloria arrives. Following that incident, Gloria never hears “an ambulance or a police car, nor anyone mentioning the driver who fled the scene or demanding that justice be served.” Such unresponsiveness emphasizes how, in Detroit, order has been abandoned and violence has become a fact of life.

Among the ruins of a reimagined Detroit.

Gwendoline Le Cunff

Still, Gloria remains hopeful, refusing “to formulate or even entertain the thought that her granddaughters, too, may no longer be among the living.” Acting on tips from concerned locals, she undertakes a ceaseless search that leads her to a mysterious “greyish-green landscape” known as Parc Rouge. Once a “gathering place for neighbourhood softball games and large picnics,” the district — which certainly brings to mind the real‑life Belle Isle — has since been overtaken by “kids from rough families that ran away or that social services lost track of.” These are the “orphans of overdoses, daughters of parents in prison.” They include Adidas, who arrived in Parc Rouge “wearing a brand new pair of running shoes he’d ripped off the day before at risk of life and limb,” and Wolfpup, who has an uncanny ability “to move silently, to remove herself from the kingdom of the audible.”

Scavenging for food and speaking in their own strange dialect, the children with “hard faces” and “skin-and-bone bodies”— some as young as five — live in a “village of mud and cardboard” with love for one another and respect for the brutality of the outside world. Many readers will think of Neverland, from J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, but while that island promises eternal childhood for its resident Lost Boys, participation in Parc Rouge has a firmly established end date: puberty means expulsion.

The colourful universe created by the children contrasts sharply with the pervasive ills of the adult world. Although Parc Rouge is not without strife — Gloria calls it the land of “shouts, weapons, hugs”— Leroux paints it vibrantly in direct opposition to the cruelty of Fort Détroit, which has been “gutted, torn apart by fire and neglect.” Sidewalks are crumbling. Coyotes call menacingly in the distance. The grown‑up world’s depravity becomes especially clear when readers learn why Judith’s children have disappeared — or rather why they have run away.

The Future effectively builds an atmosphere of apocalyptic disintegration and doom, but it is most poignant when it zeroes in on the complexities of mothering. Gloria’s fraught relationship with Judith — and Judith’s memory — is the book’s emotional core. She recalls her two-year-old daughter eating fistfuls of dirt and not knowing “whether to laugh or to scold.” She laments her current predicament of wanting to understand how Judith died but dreads that knowledge. Indeed, Leroux ably depicts the anxiety inherent in bringing children into an uncertain world and being unable to protect them from harm when it inevitably comes. She captures such concern particularly well as Gloria stares into the bathtub in which Judith was drowned:

Gloria bows to the feeling that used to come over her when her daughter was little, one that all mothers experience at some point. The conviction, watching one’s child, that one is witnessing a lifeform more alive than any other. A surplus of life concentrated, against all logic, in a tinier being. An observation accompanied by its opposite: The fear of that child dying.

Gloria eventually comes to the harrowing realization that beyond struggles with addiction, beyond a violent death, Judith severely mistreated Cassandra and Mathilda. Distraught, Gloria must process her grief while coming to terms with the genuine, unspeakable harm her daughter has caused her grandkids. “How could you treat your children that way? Why?” she imagines asking Judith. “I’m beginning to think nothing can redeem you, no excuse, no explanation. You weren’t raised like that. You didn’t grow up with cruelty. What changed you?” Leroux thoughtfully conveys that learning difficult truths about one’s children provokes another unique kind of grief: the loss of who we thought they were, and the death of who we hoped they’d become.

Generally, as our children grow older, they move further and further away from us. They fall out of the immediate sphere of our care and defy the fragile truths and protections we’ve built around them. Leroux has made this painful reality central to her richly textured dystopian landscape, offering a prescient narrative about motherhood and childhood that is alternately joyous and heartbreaking. Even with all the chaos, suffering, death, and despair of Fort Détroit, The Future provides a careful yet beautiful message of hope: one found in community, freedom, friendship, and forgiveness.

Stacey May Fowles has published five books. Her debut children’s title, The Invitation, came out last spring.

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