In Emet North’s In Universes (Harper, Apr.), which PW’s starred review called a “crackling chronicle of queer love,” a scientist named Raffi crosses the multiverse in search of a world where things finally go right with Britt, the one who got away. Over the course of North’s debut novel, Raffi encounters alternate versions of the same characters, including themself, in distinctly different worlds. The author spoke with PW about self-discovery, desire, and hope.

Why did you want to explore the concept of the multiverse in fiction?

I studied physics in college, and I wrote my thesis on the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. A professor of mine had introduced it as a “not very economical use
of universes,” which I just loved. When I
was first working on my novel, each of the episodes were disconnected. My agent suggested I try thinking about the connections, and I had this revelation: each of the stories was like an alternate universe. As soon as I had this idea, I was like, “This has to be the structure for the book. This is the only story I’m interested in telling.”

How do the speculative elements in some of the universes relate to themes of identity?

The experience of being a queer or genderqueer person, oftentimes, is doubted or misunderstood. I read an interview with the patron saint of speculative fiction, Carmen Maria Machado, who spoke about how she saw speculative elements as a way to bring the reader closer to the actual experience of somebody who is living outside of our societal norms. And that just blew my mind.

What does it mean to have Raffi’s identity evolve with each world and relationship?

One of the things I was most interested in is this question of how we differentiate our deepest desires from the desires that we absorb passively from society. When I was younger, I wanted so badly to be a physicist, to have a boyfriend. I didn’t know those weren’t my own truths. It wasn’t until I stopped asking myself, “What kind of person do I want to be?” and started asking, “What do I want?” that I was able
to move toward things that brought me joy. I wanted to capture some of that messiness—not knowing which of your desires are actually your own, not knowing what’s authentic and what’s not, and the work you have to do if you don’t understand that early on.

What would you like readers to get out of the book?

I hope people walk away with a belief that, whatever universe you’re in, it’s possible to find a way to make that the universe you want to be in. It was really important to me, in the final chapter, to have it be in many ways the worst possible world. And to be like, okay, even in this world, how
do we get to a place where you want to be there, where it’s all worth it for you because of the sort of life and community that you’ve created for yourself? It’s a really hard time to be queer, to be trans, but to have this belief that it’s still possible to create a life that’s joyful and worth living—that’s my deepest hope. And that people who haven’t found themselves portrayed in fiction will see themselves in the book.

Read more from our LGBTQ feature:

New LGBTQ Fiction in Translation

Works by queer authors from Argentina, Catalonia, Syria, and beyond speak to U.S. readers