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.
©2013 Andrew Sean Greer (P)2013 HarperCollinsPublishers
Say something about yourself!
Romance? Time travel? An author unfamiliar to me? (Romance?!) How did this end up in my library? Unanimous praise for author Andrew Sean Greer. John Updike compared Greer's The Confessions of Max Tivoli to the stylings of Proust and Nabokov; the NY Times hailed Greer's best-seller Story of a Marriage as an *inspired and lyrical novel.*
Greta Wells (a tip of the hat to H.G.Wells?) is consumed with grief after suffering a double blow: the death, from AIDS, of her beloved twin brother, and the breakup with her longtime boyfriend, caught cheating with a younger woman (that would make it a triple blow). After exhausting every known treatment for her debilitating depression, her doctor suggests a series of electroconvulsive treatments so she *can be the woman she was meant to be.* She awakes from her first treatment in 1918 NY, the second treatment 1941 NY. Her twin brother and her supportive eccentric Aunt are also there living in this time period, as is Nathan, her cheating rat bastard ex. Without giving away any of the life-altering details -- Greta finds herself transported, via shock therapy, to these different times in history, equipped with the knowledge of her modern self, to live an alternate version of her life by trading places with another *Greta*. In each setting there are hardships, politically, socially, and personally: WWI and II, the influenza, the non acceptance of homosexuality, adultery, etc. Each alter-ego is faced with choices and philosophical puzzles -- once a cheater always a cheater? fix the past or arm herself with the memory? It is an intriguing dilemma that Greer adds heft to by posing some universal questions...if you "longed to live in any time but this one" what would it be, "when you were little, was this the person you dreamed of becoming?"
I have no trouble suspending belief, as long as the author doesn't mistake my agreeing to embark on the journey with him as gullability. There's no avoiding questioning if Greer crossed that line by expecting readers to overlook some elephantine flaws. Most glaringly obvious, we travel -- not by magic carpet -- but by the scientific/medical procedure of electroconvulsive therapy ...electroshock therapy in 1918? self administered? what about Greta 2 and Greta 3? I wanted to like this enough that I did overlook those issues, but it still presented some nit-picky problems. Getting into the flow of the story took me a while; several times I almost quit, but quick pacing of the story, good writing, and very good narration encouraged me onward. I admit I had trouble keeping up with the time jumping, a reason time travel doesn't always appeal to me. As a main character, Greta is not fleshed out beyond the onset of her ordeal -- there wasn't much to like or dislike about her. There were times that Greer's portrayal of Greta, his execution of her thoughts and observations, was remarkable; maybe a bit too philosophically waxy for some readers, but exceptional considering Greer's ability to write a convincing female voice.
I could easily straddle this one; fall to the north and say I loved it -- to the left of the fence and say, I didn't hate it... either way, the one certainty is that Greer has a distinctive and beautiful writing style that made this a pleasure to read/listen to. It is much more than a novel just about time travel (and it isn't a romance novel)--it challenges the listener with questions about choices, love, loss, potential, and identity. Even though this was not exactly my cup of tea, there were elements I liked very much, and Greer is an author I am looking forward to reading again. For those readers with a taste for this type of story -- I recommend and won't be surprised if it becomes a new favorite to those of you that enjoy this kind of journey of self discovery.
This book is a great concept and I think it was just shy of truly brilliant. It reminded me of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life and I think fans of that book will also enjoy this book.
The parallels between the three eras were fascinating and while I completely believed the time travel and the different Gretas, I think some things were over-simplified or glossed over in terms of social realities both for women and gay men which causes its conclusion to feel rather weak compared to the whole.
My only other issue with this book was the poor production quality. Throughout much of the book the sound quality came and went and the edits were really obvious. I think they could've done a better job.
Regardless of the minor weaknesses, this book certainly kept me a awake and listening and kept me in my car.
I was looking forward to this book, but as soon as I listened for five minutes, I had to stop. The narrator's voice, especially related to the content, was unbearable. I wasted 1 credit and now will buy the ebook.
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