Jeanne Thornton’s debut novel The Dream of Doctor Bantam (OR Books) is a punky, poetic rush of a book. Julie Thatch is beautiful and bruised, a chain-smoking 17-year-old whose older sister has killed herself. Patrice is a French girl living in Julie’s Texas, caught up in a cult, the Institute of Temporal Illusions. As Julie’s budding body burns for Patrice, she becomes increasingly involved in a servile relationship, haunted by memories of her sister’s death. Sexy, lucid, and quirky, Thornton nails loss, loneliness, and creepy cult mentalities. We spoke with Thornton about the difference between fun and survival, the yearning of youth, Tarot cards, Scientology, and true love.

ROYAL YOUNG: There’s a big difference between having fun and surviving. But having fun is what a lot of people want to do.

JEANNE THORNTON: I was born in 1983, with the last vestiges of this notion that you weren’t supposed to enjoy whatever you did for a living. I think when I was like 14 or 15, all my friends who did anything creative turned into puppets. I know that’s harsh, but they started saying it was quaint, what we were doing.

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