As an avid reader, I aim to interact with many literary genres. I have my favourites, of course: fantasy, historical fiction, a tentative fascination with whatever Annihilation is. But there are certain genres I edge away from. Apocalypse literature is one example. As a sheltered middle-schooler, I watched end-of-the-world media with a curious eye, gawking at the performance of survivalist TV shows, glamourizing an exciting struggle and pain I could abandon with the flick of a switch. Part of growing up for me was the slow realization that global catastrophe and/or natural disasters were not just a genre for adventure. They were a real and weighty reality. Now I steer away from sci-fi dystopias and natural disaster horror stories.
Part of the problem, for me, was the trend in certain apocalypse stories to highlight grim, bleak individualism as the normal mode of operation—the best way to live in the face of great turmoil. I felt that individualism was not a character trait to be admired. To be alone cannot be the answer. Luckily, in this, I was not alone—a recent read challenged my unwillingness to interact with ‘apocalypse lit’ by challenging my definition of apocalypse itself. Poignant, gorgeous, and deeply impactful, Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice urges: what would you do if the world went dark?
In this novel, an Anishnaabe community in Northern Ontario is left reeling as the larger world is cut off. One by one, power, communication, and traffic all abandon the reserve as some great calamity hits the outside world. Winter looms. Searching for answers, then solutions, the members of the community are forced to rally around each other, some fighting for authority as the situation becomes dire. The story is woven with Indigenous traditions and ways of knowing. Characters like the protagonist Evan Whitesky struggle to reclaim these traditions as the colonial structures they have been forced to rely on for centuries fail. Supermarkets, cell phones, telephone wires: in their absence, what really matters?
An Elder Aileen asks Evan at one point—what is this English word, apocalypse? Upon his explanation, she responds that to the Anishnaabe and many more, the apocalypse has already happened: with colonial influence, the abduction of children into residential schools, and the continued cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples. To this character, the present is just one more challenge to overcome, one the Anishnaabe have survived before and that their future generations will continue to survive. The message is resounding and clear: We are still here. We will continue to be here.
I do not often read apocalypse literature, but this one filled me with hope. Rice highlights the strength of communities as a way to thrive in difficult times: the winter can only be survived together, not alone. A timely reminder to look to the future with a ready eye and to reevaluate what matters in our own lives, Moon of the Crusted Snow is a gripping tale worth the read.