Exclusive Interview: “The Possibilities” Author Yael Goldstein-Love


Like a lot of parents, Yael Goldstein-Love once pondered what would happen if she left her kid alone for just a moment. Except that unlike a lot of parents, Goldstein-Love’s thoughts didn’t exactly conform to the rules of physics…and that inspired her to write her literary / psychological suspense sci-fi novel The Possibilities (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, Goldstein-Love discusses what else inspired and influenced this story.

Yael Goldstein-Love The Possibilities

Photo Credit: © Laura Turbow Photography


To start, what is The Possibilities about, and when and where does it take place?

The book takes place roughly now (I never say exactly when, but I think roughly now is implied) in Berkeley, California, which is where I happen to live, though I didn’t live there when I started writing it. When I started the book, I was actually living in Washington DC and really homesick for Berkeley. I’d just moved from Berkeley to D.C. with my infant and partner, and I was disoriented and dislocated — first by motherhood, and then by the move and the almost immediate collapse of my relationship with my son’s dad, which had seemed unshakably solid when we’d decided to have a child together. One day, right after it became clear this relationship was kaput, I was standing outside our building, trying to understand how to manage a complicated puzzle that involved a car key I’d mistakenly left inside, a giant baby who would definitely lose his cool if I tried to take him out of his stroller and up the stairs, and an important appointment. I convinced myself for a split second that maybe I should just run into the apartment without my son, leave him right there on the street, because honestly what were the odds that someone would take him in the two minutes I’d be gone? As I was thinking this, I looked at his little face and he cracked this wide, trusting smile, and I suddenly had the most vivid, frightening image: What if I actually had started up the stairs alone and then had turned around seconds later and he was gone? In my terrifying fantasy, my son had disappeared from D.C. and reappeared instantaneously back at our home in Berkeley, where I so badly wanted us both to be. He was there, I was here, and how would I get to him, how would I help him? I knew immediately that I had just started writing a new novel, though in the book I ended up writing the protagonist’s baby doesn’t slip between geographic locations, but between parallel realities, one in which he had lived and one in which he had died during his birth. That scene I’d imagined outside our apartment building — the mother turns to run upstairs without her baby, immediately thinks better and turns back, and he’s gone — is what sets off the action in the book.

I guess maybe I’ve now also answered what the book is about? At heart, it’s really about how you manage the absolute terror that comes with loving someone as much as a parent loves a child. It’s a reimagining of early motherhood as the hero’s quest, or maybe it’s a reimagining of the hero’s quest as motherhood? Because honestly, I can’t think of anything more life-and-death dramatic — or anything that requires more slaying of internal and external beasts — than the experience of becoming a mother. For some reason the wild, joyous, dangerous adventure of it tends not to get played up. This is a wild multiverse adventure story that is also about what it is like to have a child.

You basically already answered this, but I’ll ask anyway: Where did you get the idea for The Possibilities?

I started this book in 2018 when my son was 8 months old. He had very nearly died in labor — it turned out he had mucous in his airway that was preventing him from breathing, but it took them over 10 minutes and several rounds of CPR to discover this and finally get his lungs to work. And it was over an hour more before they could tell me for sure whether he was going to live, so I lay there in the recovery room stunned and terrified, having no idea if I was actually going to be taking a baby home or whether I was in the midst of a tragedy. Every time a doctor or nurse would pass by I’d ask, “Is there any chance he’s going to be OK” and they would say, “There’s a chance,” which is really not the answer you want to hear.

In the end, he was fine, but it took me months to trust that he was mine to keep, and I had a doozy of a postpartum experience as a result. Even though I was home with a healthy newborn, I felt like also, somehow, the bad way things almost went during his birth had also happened, or maybe come too close to happening for us to really be safe. It was like I was existing in multiple realities simultaneously. It wasn’t just the reality in which my son had actually died that haunted me; there was also the world in which he’d rolled off the changing table, the one in which his head slipped beneath the water during his bath, etc. Just all the things a new parent has to be vigilant about. My mind was constantly split between these possibilities, and the result was so psychologically trippy that I felt there was no way I could capture it in realistic fiction, which is what I’d always written before. It was sci-fi that gave me the perfect metaphor for the existential strangeness I was experiencing: at the moment a baby is born, the laws of physics briefly change so that parallel worlds not only exist simultaneously but also affect each other. To me it felt almost true. It still does. There’s something about giving birth — a whole new person where once there wasn’t — that seems as though it ought to complicate the physical laws of reality for several months at least.

Is there any significance to Hannah’s baby being a boy instead of a girl?

No deep literary significance that I’m aware of, but my own child was a boy so it was really inconceivable to me that this baby would not be. Hannah isn’t me (or, anyway, she’s no more me than every character in the book is — and they are all definitely pieces of me), but Jack, the baby in the book, is very much my son at 8 months old. My son was the baby who generated these feelings inside me, so using him as the baby in the book felt crucial to the writing in a way that using a piece of my own reality has never before felt crucial to me in writing fiction.

The Possibilities sounds like it’s a mix of horror and sci-fi. How do you describe it, genre-wise?

This turns out to be a very difficult question to answer, and one about which my publishing team has had multiple meetings. I kind of wish you’d tell me. It has been described in different places by so many different genre terms that I almost think you could pick one at random and you wouldn’t be wrong. Maybe the most accurate description is that it’s literary / psychological suspense with sci-fi elements, but that is a mouthful and now that I’ve said it I’m not even sure it’s right. It’s its own strange beast.

The Possibilities is your second novel after The Passion Of Tasha Darsky. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Possibilities but not on Tasha?

Victor LaValle’s The Changeling. This book would not exist without that one. Honestly, I’m not sure I would still exist without it. I read that book in a single night when my son was maybe two weeks old, and still nursing pretty much around the clock so I would have been awake regardless, but I was awake and thrilled as I read that book. It wasn’t just how good the book was — though, to be clear, it’s magnificent — it was that the book made me realize that there was meaning to be made from the dark chaos of my postpartum experience, and all I had to do in order to access it was switching the genre of my own internal narration, branch out into horror. I’m not talking about the genre in which I write (that would come later), more just my own sense of what story to tell myself about my life so I could make some sense of it. That book gave me a kind of psychological lifeline by introducing the idea that different genres can open up different possibilities for making meaning, ones that simply aren’t available in any other way. I can’t tell if this is the most obvious point in the world or a point that actually makes no sense, but it was one that meant a lot to me at the time.

The other book that had a similar effect not long afterward was Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library. And roughly at the same time, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. All three books are very hard to define in terms of genre — are they literary? are they genre? and, if so, what genre? beats me. All were immensely important to regaining my sense of myself as a person who was now not only a mother but one who was having a very hard time adjusting to motherhood. Somehow gaining this new sense of myself (new self?) involved integrating the fact that I have always loved and devoured many genres of fiction — but especially sci-fi, fantasy, suspense, and horror– into some more central part of me, including, eventually, my imagination as a writer, which had previously always been much more realism-based. I don’t think there’s any going back for me. Mixing genres feels much more authentic to how I think and feel, and I doubt I’ll ever write another realistic literary book like The Passion Of Tasha Darsky, but who knows.

How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Because the whole “mom lost her kid, now she’s looking for a replacement in the multiverse” sounds a lot like what Wanda went through in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness

I am very embarrassed to say that I have not seen Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. You’ve convinced me to watch it. Though I will say that in my book it is extremely important that Hannah is not looking for a replacement. She’s looking only and exclusively for her version of her son. That’s actually a huge part of what the second half of the book centers around, but I think explaining more than that will give away spoilers.

But to get to your question, I dunno really. It’s a very good question, and it’s making me think. I’m so aware of the books that had a huge effect on this novel, and I’m not nearly as aware of any movies, TV shows, or games that did. I will say that I was wild about Russian Doll when it came out, and I feel it plays with the multiverse as a psychological metaphor in ways that are not dissimilar to what I do in The Possibilities — but by the time it came out I’d already finished writing my novel, so I guess I can’t really call it an influence. Same with Everything Everywhere All At Once. Both came out after the book was done, but both felt like wonderful validation to me. Like, yes, see, this makes sense: The multiverse really is the perfect metaphor for our internal worlds, and you can make a rollicking good adventure out of it at the same time that you are using it to speak to deep emotional truths.



And how about your very patient cat, Minnie? What influence did she have on The Possibilities?

Did she put you up to this? I’m sure Minnie believes she had a tremendous influence, but really I don’t think she was any help at all. She rarely is, though her patience with my six-year-old and his passionate attention to her is astonishing.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Possibilities?

It’s fun. You don’t need to be a mother to enjoy it.

You also don’t need to be a sci-fi person to get into it, though probably you need to not actively dislike sci-fi elements in a book.

Yael Goldstein-Love The Possibilities

Finally, if someone enjoys The Possibilities, what sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you recommend they check out?

Time’s Mouth by Edan Lepucki. It’s coming out August 1 from Counterpoint. It’s a trippy time travel novel about motherhood, cults, California — it’s fantastic.



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