Wednesday, April 30, 2014

'The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells'

I ask you this:  What would you do if you were able to change not only one life, but three?

And they were your lives.  

But it gets better:  The lives are from years past.

That's the basic premise of 'The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells', the newest novel from Andrew Sean Greer, the author of 'The Confessions of Max Tivoli'.

Greta Wells is a photographer, living in 1985 New York, and suffering the death of her beloved twin, Felix, and the breakup with her lover, Nathan.  Suffocating from a horrible bout of depression, Greta undertakes a radical treatment, which has unexpected results: She is transported to the lives she would have lived had she been born in different eras.

In 1918, she is the wife of a man who is a doctor stationed in Europe during WWI.  It is during this time that she discovers a young actor is in love with her, and she is tempted to accept his affection.  

Soon, she finds herself in 1941, living the life of a devoted wife and mother.  Her husband, as in the past life, is a doctor serving in WWII.  

Each life contains the same tensions and obligations and choices.  And helping through almost every era is her Aunt Ruth, a bohemian who encourages her to accept who she is and to make the choices that will lead to satisfaction.  

The same people surround Greta:  Her former lover, Nathan.  Her brother, Felix, and his lover, Alan.  All the same, yet not.  Hard to explain, but bear with me.  Each era has different social mores.  Some accepted, some expected.  And some remain hidden.  As she becomes more confident with each life, Greta tries to change the moves on the chessboard, and when she commits to the ultimate change, her 'life' will never be the same.

Author Andrew Sean Greer
Although most readers would be a put off by the constant switch from era to era, the author has clearly set up each chapter according to Greta's 'treatments'.  I didn't have to backtrack (something I absolutely abhor!); I knew immediately what was going on.  The flavor of each era was beautifully conveyed.  I could imagine the clothing, the furnishings, the social uproar over a forbidden love.  Surprisingly, the characters stayed the same, yet they didn't become stale.  

Greer does a great job in showing us the inner turmoil of a woman going through emotional pain.

But he did an even greater job in showing us how that woman took hold of her three lives and made a choice that would bring her the greatest happiness and satisfaction.

'The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells', by Andrew Sean Greer, is available at your local library and independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-006-2213-785

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