The Possibilities

A Novel

About the Book

A new mother ventures into parallel worlds to find her missing child in this “wildly inventive” (San Francisco Chronicle) novel that turns the joys and anxieties of parenthood into an epic quest, “a powerful page-turner with deep wisdom” (People).

“An original take on motherhood, The Possibilities taps into those primal feelings every nurturer feels—and fears.”—Good Morning America


What if the life you didn’t live was as real as the one you did?

Hannah is having a bad day. A bad month. A bad year? That feels terrible to admit, since her son Jack was born just eight months ago and she loves him more than anything. But ever since his harrowing birth, she can’t shake the feeling that it could have gone the other way. That her baby might not have made it. Terrifying visions of the different paths her life could have taken begin to disrupt her cozy, claustrophobic days with Jack, destabilizing her marriage and making her husband concerned for her mental health. Are the strange things Hannah is seeing just new-mom anxiety, or is something truly weird and sinister afoot? What if Hannah really did unlock a dark force during childbirth?

When Hannah’s worst nightmare comes true and Jack disappears from his crib, she must tap into an extraordinary ability she never knew she had in order to save him: She must enter different versions of her life while holding on to what is most important to her in this one to bring her child back home.

From the intimate joys of parenthood to the cosmic awe of the multiverse, The Possibilities is an ingenious and wildly suspenseful novel that stares down into the dizzying depths of maternal love, vulnerability, and strength.
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Praise for The Possibilities

“An original take on motherhood, The Possibilities taps into those primal feelings every nurturer feels—and fears.”—Good Morning America

“[A] beautiful, exciting book . . . head-spinning.”The New York Times Book Review

“You can’t protect your children from everything. This truth is hard for all parents but especially terrifying for Hannah, with her strange ability to see all of her 8-month-old son’s possible futures. A powerful page-turner with deep wisdom.”—People

“Wildly inventive.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“A masterwork . . . [a] brilliant, devastating depiction of the postpartum experience.”Feminist Book Club

The Possibilities had me intrigued, then gripped, and by its end, greatly moved by its exploration of the quite literally existential stakes of loving another person. Within hours of finishing this novel, I found myself quoting it in conversation. . . . A bravura, unforgettable performance.”—Namwali Serpell, author of The Furrows

“Unpredictable and a page-turner, equal parts passion and philosophy, The Possibilities is the tense and twisty tale of an imperiled child, a crumbling marriage, and the desperate woman who is trying to save them both.”—Karen Joy Fowler, author of Booth

“At once a profoundly insightful exploration of motherhood in all its joys and sorrows and the best kind of speculative fiction . . . The combination will bend your mind and your heart.”—Ayelet Waldman, author of A Really Good Day

“The Possibilities explores motherhood from a place of such raw, animalistic love and with such emotional veracity that I, at times, had to put the book down and take deep breaths. It calls to mind Octavia Butler, Madeleine L’Engle, and most of all Philip K. Dick.”—Joanna Rakoff, author of My Salinger Year and A Fortunate Age

The Possibilities hooked me immediately with its ingenious premise and a story so suspenseful that I had no choice but to ignore everything else to read to its stunning conclusion. Yael Goldstein-Love is an enormous talent.”—Edan Lepucki, author of Woman No. 17

“A unique and clever mash-up of science fiction and relationship fiction, this compelling novel explores the joys and fears of being a parent. . . . Imagine if The Push by Ashley Audrain, met Recursion by Blake Crouch, with a sprinkling of This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub.”Booklist

“Part thriller, part psychology, part quantum physics—all fun.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Goldstein-Love's game of hopscotch through the multiverse works both as a smart sci-fi thriller and as a metaphor for the worry, exhaustion, and power inherent in motherhood. . . . This memorable, stirring work of suspense is primed to become a sensation in book club circles.”—Shelf Awareness

“[This engaging novel] blends an intimate view of new motherhood with an ingenious story of a multiverse. . . . The result is a memorable story about the limits of a parent’s ability to protect their child from harm.”Publishers Weekly
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The Possibilities

Chapter One

Eight Months Earlier

That was when the worlds split.

When she was open on the table, paralyzed from the waist down. When they held her child up for her to see.

You, she thought, but the sight of him, twisted rigid in a howl that never came, cut off the thought.

Then he was gone. Someone had taken him.

Instead of his cry, there was the tinny hospital PA paging one neonatal team and then another.

Instead of his cry, the voices of competent, confident people creeping toward alarm.

A doctor’s narrow head was bent in concentration, sewing her back into a body.

“What’s happening?” she asked.

“They’re trying,” Adam said, from somewhere behind. Then he was just above and kissed her forehead. His lips felt dry and chapped.

The room was small, too small for all these people. She didn’t know the situation but understood that it was dire. Someone had held her child up, then taken him away, and he hadn’t made a sound yet, and the room kept filling with more people.

“It’s cold in here,” she said. “They need to wrap him.”

“It’s warm, Hannahbelle,” said Adam’s voice, but not from near her ear where she expected. “They’ve got him warm, don’t worry, they’re doing everything correctly.”

He must have been straining to see, must have been craning, she could hear it in his voice. It was happening near the door, she was almost certain, somewhere past her feet, whatever they were trying, and the door was letting in a draft; she felt it blowing over her.

She didn’t try to see. She wouldn’t have been able to, her view partially blocked by the paper draping meant to shield her from an eyeful of her insides. But also seeing had never been a part of what they shared, she and this child. In their nine months together, she had only ever seen him for an instant: tiny body twisted rigid in a silent howl, eyes not yet open. That was seconds ago or minutes or hours and every second without oxygen killed more of him, the tiny brain that had been growing all along inside her, the one she somehow felt she knew, so much so that the unfamiliar look of him surprised her. The situation seemed to her quite obviously, quite awesomely a bad one, but also somehow muted, in the way that time mutes even the worst pain. It felt to her this had been going on for longer than the life she’d lived until now.

In the corner of her vision, something moved. She tilted up her chin and caught the blur as it moved past her. Held cradled in a nurse’s arms—the blue-smudged lips, the way one tiny arm trailed as a doll’s would. The clipped, efficient sorrow in the way the nurse grabbed at the arm and tucked it in. The clipped, efficient sorrow of the quiet that descended.

Then she was looking at the obstetrician’s narrow head still bent behind the curtain, the hair so glossy black it cast its own strange dulled reflection of the overhead fluorescents.

“Is he OK?” she asked.

“Is he going to be OK?”

There was no answer.

Chapter Two

Eight months later, I stood on the top level of an open parking structure, watching fog roll in from the Oakland Hills and longing for a cigarette.

Jack was regarding me through heavy eyes. He looked like he could sleep.

I smiled at him, and then, unable to resist, though I knew it would perk him up and make a car seat nap less likely, I bent and nuzzled the top of his small head. The silky brown waves that tightened into ringlets near the base of his neck smelled of absurdly expensive baby shampoo mixed with a musk like a cat’s just-licked fur. The smell soothed my nerve endings like nicotine.

Well, not quite like nicotine. It made no sense to stand outside a car, contemplating the view from the top level of an open parking garage, if you weren’t smoking a cigarette. But so many of my habits were like this, obsolete cocoons of pre-baby behavior, the butterfly long gone.

“Get in the car, Hannah,” I said out loud because when a day has already beaten you down before nine a.m., it’s nice to have someone give you clear directions, even if it’s yourself.

But I kept on standing there. The air was the perfect cool of one foot stuck out from sweaty blankets, and with the fog now burning off in the morning glare, I felt outside of time, outside of space in the best possible way, like at the airport. Just standing there was luxurious because there was no purpose to it. I was ignoring everything I had to face about this day. I was standing there simply because I wanted to and that felt better than sex, better than drugs. Slightly less good than a massage. Nowhere near as good as four solid hours of sleep.

But Jack was fiddling with his ear now. It was one of his more urgent Tired Signs and meant I had to get him in that car seat pronto to seize the glinting, flickering portal to a better dimension known in baby-sleep literature as the Tired Window. Reluctantly, I slipped the diaper backpack off my shoulder and started rooting for the car key.

I could tell right away it wasn’t there. There was only one place I ever put it, in the side pocket that was a little too narrow to hold my phone, but still my hand kept rooting, hopefully, now in the main compartment, past clean diapers, hand wipes, spare onesies (always damp for reasons I had not pinned down), down into the substrate of loose Cheerios.

Jack had started mewling experimentally.

I trilled, “Mommy forgot the car key! Silly Mommy!”

My voice was pitched halfway between fun and seriously weird because I was trying to fend off an internal chorus of f**kety f*** f***. I was imagining lugging the stroller all the way up and then back down four flights of stairs again. The parking structure extended only three floors up the low-rise, my therapist’s office was on the seventh, and the elevator was broken because of course it was. It almost had to be on a day like this.

I felt in the diaper bag one last time, probing the refrigerated pocket where an empty, unwashed bottle festered, a relic of a time when I still hoped to convince Jack to accept something other than my breast. I did this even though I now knew exactly where the car key was: on the small side table in Dr. Goodman’s office. I’d taken it out of the pocket in order to fish for the parking ticket, then put it down while handing the ticket over to be validated. I remembered this all very precisely, so precisely I almost felt I should be able to slip a hand into that memory and pluck the key right out.

I forced myself to picture instead the viable next steps. Up and down the concrete stairs again, four flights. Was there any way around this? I wasn’t lazy, but Jack was a beast of a child, still 99th percentile in height and weight as of his last doctor’s appointment, almost a different species from me; I very much doubted I’d ever in my life broken the 20th percentile. Jack’s stroller added another fifteen pounds at least.

Options: I could try to take him out of it, risk his wrath. But he was so calm right now, still maybe looking drowsy. Like one of those magical creatures I saw in coffee shops, napping strapped to their mother’s chests, as though caring for a baby might be as simple as starting to wear silk scarves, just a matter of getting the knots right.

“Right,” I said aloud now. “Right,” I tried again in a more cheerful voice. And then to Jack, “Mommy made an uh-oh.”

Jack gurgled happily at this, recognizing the word. He didn’t seem drowsy anymore, and this was mildly dismaying. It meant no car seat nap. The Tired Window flickering shut, a portal winked out of existence. No chance to start making phone calls, sending emails, sorting out the practicalities of the bombshell Adam had dropped on me that morning. But any frustration was mostly overwhelmed by my delight at Jack’s sweet gurgle, at recognizing the great joy he took in discovering that within the buzzing, blooming noise always surrounding him there were patterns, little packets of sound that picked out little pieces of the world. It knocked my socks off, still, that babies ever managed to learn this, that he was learning it and I could actually see it happening.

“Right,” I said again, and for a moment actually managed to feel fantastic.

But there was still the problem of the car key and the broken elevator, of my exhausted, aching body. The C-section scar that still felt raw and angry eight months on. And my giant baby who might at any moment become a writhing, wriggling, shrieking torque of impressive force, frighteningly uncontainable on four flights of concrete stairs.

Without him, I could knock discreetly at the heavy door, whisper “Left my keys,” grab them through the tiny crack that Dr. Goodman would surely open—no wider—to protect the confidentiality of her next patient, then slip away almost as though it hadn’t happened.

About the Author

Yael Goldstein-Love
Yael Goldstein-Love is the author of The Passion of Tasha Darsky and the co-founder of the literary studio PlymptonShe also practices psychotherapy with a particular interest in the transition to parenthood and is working toward her doctorate in clinical psychology. She lives with her son in Berkeley, California. More by Yael Goldstein-Love
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