Why Liz Harmer fills her post-apocalyptic novel with amateurs

The short story writer talks about her debut novel, The Amateurs.
Liz Harmer is the author of the novel The Amateurs. (Scott Nichols/Knopf Canada)

Liz Harmer creates a world where you can step into a portal and be transported to a beloved time in life. In her debut novel, The Amateurs, most people on earth choose to step back, leaving the present world practically devoid of humans. The catch is they may not be able to come back.  

Thought experiments

"At the centre of The Amateurs is a product called 'port' — a portal that a tech company creates and releases to the public before all the kinks are out. The world that we enter at the beginning of the novel is a world in which almost everyone has gone through portals out of the present. Whether they can come back, whether it's wise to go through the portals — these are the dilemmas the survivors face. I feel the post-apocalyptic novel is a thought experiment. What fascinates me about it is thinking through how you might live if all of the things that determine our lives went away. How would we live? You're kind of boiling the big questions of life down."

Positively flawed characters 

"One key element in The Amateurs is the depiction of people as fumbling, hapless and bewildered, but ultimately lovable. An amateur to me is a combination of all of those things. It's somebody who screws things up, but is well-intentioned — there's an optimism to that."

Liz Harmer's comments have been edited and condensed.