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People and circumstances can change, as Portland writer shows in new novel 'Thrust'

COURTESY PHOTO: PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE - Lidia Yuknavitch, a nationally recognized author who calls Portland home, has a new novel, "Thrust," and she goes on a book tour, starting June 28 at Powell's City of Books.Portland author Lidia Yuknavitch's latest protagonist has the power, the will and the influence to change people.

Laisve, from the novel "Thrust" ($28, Penguin Random House), which comes out June 28, could be the perfect example for individuals hoping to create change in the world.

From Amazon: With a natural disaster creating rising waters and ruining cities, she's a motherless girl from the late 21st century who has "carrier" power, a person who carries meaningful objects through time and, through a talisman, connects with characters in the past two centuries — a French sculptor, a woman of the American underworld, a dictator's daughter, an accused murderer, and a squad of laborers at work on a national monument.

The goal: To reach present day and then go back to the country's founding to forge a connection to save lives and their shared dream of freedom.

"Laisve is a figure of unstoppable imagination — as the imaginations of children and young adults often are," Yuknavitch said. "So, she represents a continual 'what if' space."

Yuknavitch goes on tour this week: Powell's City of Books, June 28; Seattle, June 29; San Francisco, June 30; Los Angeles, July 5; Washington, D.C., July 6; Brooklyn, July 8. The New York Times reviewed "Thrust" on June 23.

The Tribune caught up with Yuknavitch, a two-time Oregon Book Award winner and author of "The Book of Joan," "The Small Backs of Children," "Dora: A Headcase," the story collection "Verge" and her memoir, "The Chronology of Water," for some thoughts on "Thrust," a novel a decade in the making, and which has an alluring cover, and more:

Tribune: Very high praise, so far, for "Thrust." Publishers Weekly calls "Thrust" your best book yet, do you agree and why?

Yuknavitch: I'm not sure I think of any book I write as "best" or not best, you know? I just know I go into something like a fever dream to create stories, and I certainly write my heart out to the best of my abilities, and I try to leap taller than I am, explore unknown ground with whatever skill I have to bring. I will say that "Thrust" marks a deep desire to write out into the world. To loosen my grip on what feels comfortable to me and cast my lot with a global writing community with the time I have left on the planet (no one knows what time they have left). So I felt like writing into the ocean or space.

Tribune: What is the inspiration behind "Thrust," and what was the biggest challenge in writing the novel?

Yuknavitch: The diving off place for "Thrust" is our present tense. All of the themes in the story are emergent (as they have been ever) and pressing in our present tense, for example, with climate change, white supremacy, misogyny, the rights (or lack of them) of workers worldwide, the dangerous world we've made for children in terms of violence, war and human trafficking, to name a few. And the question at the heart of the story is something like, "What stories have we told ourselves about who we are, and, is it possible to change those stories? In relation to the planet and each other?" To my mind it is ever possible to story, de-story, and re-story. Even in the bleakest moments. That is the power of imagination, and perhaps love. A love that goes beyond a self-as-center universe.

Tribune: Publishers Weekly also asked you about takeaways from "Thrust," and you responded: "At any moment we could change our own story or that of the person next to us. … We don't have to live the stories we've been told." How did you address that line of thinking with "Thrust" and the protagonist, Laisve, who certainly works to change lives?

Yuknavitch: I get it that some readers will read her as some kind of savior figure, but for me she is simply the space of imaginative possibility — she keeps that storytelling possibility open, alive, in motion. She's not exactly "saving" anyone. She's moving the story elements around, as if that were still possible, which I do believe — and the storytelling threads come from different ways of looking at the world. Science. Theologies. Philosophies. Myths. Fables. Ordinary people who see things differently than anyone else, but do not get the amplification that celebrities or power folk do.

Tribune: Any retrospection on "The Chronology of Water," and will it make it to the big screen?

Yuknavitch: My understanding is we are a go flight. Kristen (Stewart) is casting. Kristen is a punk rock visionary, and I pity the person who gets in her way.

Tribune: You wrote "Letter to My Rage: An Evolution," which was released during the pandemic and post-George Floyd environment. Much has happened since then — president change, social justice movements, COVID seemingly under control, but other negative things (including Ukraine) remain. Has your rage subsided or what worries you about today's world?

Yuknavitch: I don't think any of those things are under control! Ha! And "things" have multiplied and mutated, so we are in for a continued bumpy ride, that's for sure. I guess the short answer is nope, my rage has not subsided, dang it, but it has undergone adaptation, I think. My rage is changing forms, or growing gills and fins or something, through the alchemy of artistic expression/storytelling.

What worries me about today's world is that the danger isn't ahead of us. The danger is now. The things we are afraid of are already happening. I worry that the fear and anger people feel will create obstacles to the radical change necessary for a better world. I worry that people are clinging to old beliefs so hard their hearts might atrophy or we might annihilate each other. But I also believe in becoming. That what may look like the end of things is really a beginning, as all endings are beginnings. The brutal and the beautiful are always existing alongside each other. I'm happy to help shovel (stuff) on behalf of the beautiful and in an effort to ease suffering and brutality ... grateful for my turn on the planet.

Tribune: What do you have in the works now, care to share?

Yuknavitch: A nonfiction odyssey and a new novel. I think. Maybe. Ha.


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