1985. After the death of her beloved twin brother, Felix, and the breakup with her longtime lover, Nathan, Greta Wells embarks on a radical psychiatric treatment to alleviate her suffocating depression. But the treatment has unexpected effects, and Greta finds herself transported to the lives she might have had if she'd been born in different eras.Read more...
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1985. After the death of her beloved twin brother, Felix, and the breakup with her longtime lover, Nathan, Greta Wells embarks on a radical psychiatric treatment to alleviate her suffocating depression. But the treatment has unexpected effects, and Greta finds herself transported to the lives she might have had if she'd been born in different eras.
During the course of her treatment, Greta cycles between her own time and alternate lives in 1918, where she is a bohemian adulteress, and 1941, which transforms her into a devoted mother and wife. Separated by time and social mores, Greta's three lives are remarkably similar, fraught with familiar tensions and difficult choices. Each reality has its own losses, its own rewards, and each extracts a different price. And the modern Greta learns that her alternate selves are unpredictable, driven by their own desires and needs.
As her final treatment looms, questions arise: What will happen once each Greta learns how to remain in one of the other worlds? Who will choose to stay in which life?
Magically atmospheric, achingly romantic, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells beautifully imagines "what if" and wondrously wrestles with the impossibility of what could be.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-04-15
- Reviewer: Staff
In Greer’s time-traveling fourth novel (following The Story of a Marriage), the eponymous Greta skips between three different eras, and her life is intertwined with the same two characters (and other incarnations of herself) in each. Greta Wells, living in New York City in 1985, is devastated by her twin brother Felix’s death from AIDS and the end of her long-term relationship with Nathan. To treat her crippling depression, she pursues electroconvulsive therapy, which begins a cycle of magical time travel. In 1941, Felix is alive and Nathan is her husband; and in 1918, Nathan is away at war and Felix, though still homosexual, is deeply closeted. As the Greta of 1985 explores these timelines, the versions of herself from 1918 and 1941 also travel to each other’s eras. No timeline is perfect; each offers losses and compensations. Felix’s stories provide an especially moving exploration of the limited choices available to gay people throughout history. The Gretas have surprisingly little solidarity, intruding into each other’s lives without warning or permission. While Greer too often skimps on the period details that can give time travel stories a sense of reality, the novel’s central questions—how does experience change us, and which relationships are worth sacrificing for—work to bridge its chronological jumps. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit. (June)
Loss follows a time-traveler
It’s clear that 1985 hasn’t been Greta Wells’ year. Reeling from the death of her twin brother and the shock of her longtime partner walking out on her, Greta feels as if the very foundation of her life is crumbling and threatening to take her with it. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so in a last-ditch attempt at happiness, Greta turns to electroshock therapy, hoping it will help dispel the quagmire of depression and despair she finds herself sinking into. The treatment is not without consequence, however: With each electrifying session, Greta finds herself transported through time, sliding seamlessly into lives in different decades that, with but the slightest shuffling of fate’s deck of cards, could have been her own.
Which life will Greer's time-traveler heroine choose?
As Greta bounces from her 1918 persona of oppressed housewife with a secret lover, to a doting mother and picture-perfect wife in 1941 and back to 1985 once more, she revels in the return of loved ones she feared were forever out of reach, while also grappling with the struggles and losses that seem to reverberate throughout each lifetime. The harsh boundaries between the lives begin to soften as the burdens that each Greta carries can no longer be ignored and the consequences of their actions become increasingly difficult to compartmentalize. With the end of her treatment drawing near, Greta faces a race to set everything right and must prepare herself to choose the one life in which happily ever after has the potential to exist right now.
In The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, Andrew Sean Greer masterfully harnesses the dizzying powers of his imagination to explore the intoxicating question of “what if?” in a story that proves utterly enchanting. Greer writes with a thoughtfulness and elegance that allows the multiple storylines to coalesce easily into something that is both larger than life and the very essence of it. Though the time-travel may initially throw some readers for a loop, the quandaries that Greta faces are sufficiently universal and convincing—and Greer’s storytelling so skillful—that within the pages of fiction, the impossible has never seemed so attainable, or so real.