Inside Our Very Bones: The Essence of Cli-Fi

Since my last, non-bookish post on the IPCC report struck a chord, I’m going to talk this week about two novels that engage with a warming world, books that fall under the umbrella category of “climate fiction,” a.k.a. “cli-fi.” Both of them use the word “marrow” in the title, a suggestion of how they are reaching for something essential, interior, and vital.

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith.

I argued in my post on Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library that the novel functioned as “low-key cli-fi,” with global warming being something both looming but also present in the current moment. Similarly, Alexis M. Smith’s Marrow Island is set in the 20-teens amongst people trying to live in the wake of disaster. The novel’s narrator and protagonist, Lucie, survived a fictional earthquake in the Puget Sound that decimated her island communities and the city of Seattle. Her father, however, did not survive, never returning from the oil refinery where he worked. Fast forward and adult Lucie returns to the islands, responding to a plea from her childhood best friend to visit the community that has sprung up on Marrow Island. The novel offsets the devastation of the earthquake and its aftermath, including poisoning of the land and waters from the refinery and its “clean-up” after the ‘quake, with the increasing awareness of global climate change. Both disasters force Lucie and the people on Marrow Island, led by the mysterious Sister J., to attempt to answer the questions: What do we owe to each other? To the more-than-human world? Knowing what we know, how then shall we live? What are we willing to sacrifice for a livable future?

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

In Dimaline’s fantastic YA novel, global warming has severely altered the climate of the region currently known as Canada and most cities have collapsed into chaos. And then everyone in North America loses the ability to dream except for Native/Indigenous/First Nations peoples. When settler colonialists discover this fact, they begin to kidnap Indigenous people, extracting their dreams via their bone marrow. The main character, teenager Frenchie, finds himself with a group of found family heading north and trying to outrun and out-hide the marrow thieves.

In The Marrow Thieves, as with many other works by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) authors, global warming stands as an entangled horror to more immediate white supremacist and genocidal atrocities. Global warming amplifies racist violence but it is not uniquely horrible, showing that many BIPOC do not have the luxury of hand-wringing over climate change alone. I hesitate to project intentions or assumed readers onto Dimaline. I suspect that I am not who she is writing for, for multiple reasons. But I will say, as a white, settler reader, the novel clarifies that settler colonial violence and the genocide of Indigenous North Americans is not only not behind us but also may very well continue in the future if we do not stop it in the present. The novel thus connects the powerful set of assumptions and beliefs that lead to both systemic racist violence and the poisoning of global systems to the point of collapse. The Marrow Thieves: 9781770864863: Dimaline, Cherie: Books

Both of these novels explore ways of surviving, including the importance of love and human connection in the face of overwhelming loss. And so I will say again: you are not alone, not alone in your fear, grief, anger, or any other complex tangle of emotions regarding global warming or systemic injustice. Share where you are. Find your people. As E. M. Forrester wrote in Howard’s End, “Only connect! … Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.”