In my lifetime, the very idea of the future went from variably optimistic, if cautious and watch-tapping, to different shades of inevitably bleak. To suggest that there's anything positive about our collective future now is to declare a fundamental, privileged split from reality.
With that in mind, what does it mean, then, to suggest that Catherine Leroux's 2024 Canada Reads-selected novel, The Future, is optimistic?
On its face, this novel about the collapse of the Francophone city of Fort Détroit, where "Urban Decay Tour" buses crawl through neighbourhoods of collapsing, collapsed, and burned down houses, past abandoned factories, government buildings, monuments, the whole lot of it festooned with posters of the missing children of missing or deceased adults, doesn't promise much in the way of hope. Yet it's not nothing, and worth noting, that it does begin with hope: Gloria has come to the abandoned home of her daughter, whose murder has not been solved, to search for her missing granddaughters. Things are bad--in these lives, in this city, in this world--but still worth saving.
Decay is a key verb/concept in Leroux's novel. Its primary meaning, its import as implied by its use on tour ghoulish buses (Another reason we need to retire "dystopian" as a classification: you can currently hop on one of these buses to tour our reality's Detroit) is of course pejorative. But it's a rich and relevant descriptor. Gardening plays a key role in this new old world, both a necessity, as the supply chain within the city is pretty rusted, and as a pastime. What, really, is more optimistic than gardening? In nature, of course, decay is essential to regrowth. One of our great human endeavors has been to convince ourselves that we are not a part of nature (for how can we be a part of something we fancy we control) and the very idea that we might still be prone to its machinations is devastating.
In The Future, old things are dying and new things are growing. That the new things come at the cost of the loss of the old can't help but tint our feelings towards them. It's this grey area that Leroux manages to break light through. It's rough, go-flat-on-the-floor-for-a-while stuff to consider about our own lives, but as we find ourselves living in a present we were hoping would stay in the future, it's something we'll have to grapple with and something worth practising. There is still loveliness and wonder in a changing world.
"Too often," thinks a resident of the decaying Fort Détroit, "she forgets to notice just how beautiful her world can be, especially at this hour, when the light takes on a reddish hue. It's like honey pulled from a hive."