An elderly woman arrives in fictional Fort Détroit to search for her missing granddaughters. Her companions – a grieving neighbour, a retired musician, a dedicated nurse, and several greenhouse gardeners – aid her quest. In a city too unruly for the rule of law, where the buses have stopped running and the shelves of most stores have sat empty for months, the oldest residents of Fort Détroit must band together to keep their community safe.
On the outskirts of the city, at the other end of the spectrum of life, a pack of children have set up camp in the forest of Parc Rouge. Some orphaned, some abandoned, and most of them forgotten, the children scrounge for food and supplies, seek shelter in tattered tents, and keep a careful watch for grown-ups. These may come in the form of drunks who wander into their camp, but the children also look out for blooming chests, deepening voices, and other signs of puberty in their own ranks – no adult is worthy of their trust. The paths of old and young converge in this city “so empty it is full, so broken it blossoms.” It is only at their intersection that the residents of Fort Détroit may begin to imagine a future more full of hope than despair, more full of dreams than nightmares.
The Future is Catherine Leroux’s fourth novel. First published as L’avenir in 2020, it was translated into English by Susan Ouriou in 2023. Born in Rosemère, Quebec, and now based in Montreal, Leroux has received numerous awards and accolades, including the Prix France-Québec for her novel Le mur mitoyen (2013) and the Prix Adrienne-Choquette for her short story collection Madame Victoria (2015). The Future was selected for the 2024 edition of Canada Reads, CBC’s annual “battle of the books” competition. It will be championed by fellow Montreal writer and this year’s Mordecai Richler Writer-in-Residence, Heather O’Neill.
I don’t believe O’Neill will have any difficulty defending The Future during this year’s Canada Reads debates, which will take place between March 4 and 7. Leroux’s words, expertly translated by Ouriou, seem to leap off the pages of this book to construct before readers’ very eyes the characters, settings, and mysterious goings-on she describes. I found it impossible to read this book without a pen in hand – there were too many beautiful passages to underline, too many sentences that read more like poetry than prose.
Leroux’s characters are unique in themselves – the children, especially, are endowed with such spirit and individuality as are rarely to be found outside of childhood – but it is when they come together that the magic of this book is most palpable. The bonds of trust forged by Gloria and Eunice, by Fiji and Bleach, in the city of old, and in the forest of youth testify to the possibility of finding, in Rihanna’s words, “love in a hopeless place.”
Earlier this month, following a book talk featuring Leroux and O’Neill, I had a chance to interview Leroux about The Future, her relationship with Montreal, and her approach to writing speculative fiction. I was especially curious about the book’s second chapter, written entirely from the perspectives of the Parc Rouge children. Leroux told me she was forced to throw away a first draft of this chapter because it was “too boring”: she had written this version as a mother, she said, instead of as a child. Once she learned to put aside her instinctual concerns for her characters’ safety and comfort and to make way for the infinitely more important demands of play, stuffed toys, inter-group rivalry, and bathroom humour, she was able to find the voices of Parc Rouge.
We also discussed Leroux’s close-to-home inspiration for Fort Détroit. This version of the city of Detroit was never surrendered to the Americans in the War of 1812, instead becoming a French-Canadian stronghold. At the time The Future takes place, however, Fort Détroit is no longer a stronghold but a wasteland. Leroux was attracted to Detroit because of its similarities to Montreal: both cities experienced a surge in investment and production, either in the 19th century or the 20th, but now find themselves in economic decline. Economic decline, she said, has certainly taken its toll on the cities, but it has also provided ample fodder for artists and innovators with an interest in rebuilding. “People have had to be creative in order to survive,” Leroux explained.
Certainly, Fort Détroit is a dystopia as desolate as the rest of them. It is all the more terrifying, I think, on account of the fact that no evil dictator has taken control of the city or imposed a rule of terror and totalitarianism on its residents. Instead, it is the cruel forces of “pollution, poverty, and the legacy of racism” that threaten the survival of Fort Détroit – or what’s left of it, rather. Leroux’s future is as factual as it is fictional, and the strength, creativity, and humour with which her characters weather each storm that comes their way are truly inspiring.