The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells
Following in the tradition of The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Andrew Sean Greer returns to a tale of the impossible and magical, set against a strong historical background.
In 1985, Greta Wells is unhappy. Her beloved twin brother Felix has just passed away, and her boyfriend Nathan has left her. To combat her unshakeable depression, she agrees to undertake a radical electroshock treatment. But the treatment comes with very unexpected side effects. When Greta awakes the morning after her treatment, it’s to a different time and a different version of her own life. There are two alternate lives, she learns, and she cycles between 1918, 1941, and her own 1985 during the course of 25 treatments. In 1918, she’s a bohemian and in 1941, a devoted wife and mother, but she’s surrounded by the same people in both, by Felix and Nathan, playing roles both familiar and unfamiliar. She isn’t the only Greta cycling, and each of the three Gretas weighs how much to interfere in the other two times, to achieve what that particular Greta wants most of all.
A book hard to explain, but a book easy to understand, this is a story about choice and consequence, about taking second chances and finding that they may take us down unforeseen paths. I enjoyed this book, of three Gretas trying to hold on to three Nathans and Felixes, through the war and Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, through the next generation’s war of 1941, and through 1985’s new battle, with AIDs. Intricately plotted, this is a thoughtful story peopled by characters all different enough despite their similarities to provide interesting contrasts between the three eras. Recommended.