Review: The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer

June 24, 2013 Literary Fiction, Review 2

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (June 25, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0062213784
  • Source: Publisher

When Greta’s twin brother passes away and a long-term relationship ends, Greta Wella is inconsolable, in a severe state of depression. Her doctor suggests a treatment involving electroshock therapy. The result is beyond what Greta could have imagined. After each treatment she awakens in another time, sent back to 1918, 1941, and the present.  In each of these times, her “alter ego” has a life vastly different than her own.  One is a devoted mother, the other a carefree adulteress. Yet in each of these lives, key characters missing in her “current” life are still present, including her deceased brother Felix and her beloved former lover.

Although these individuals, integral to her happiness in her present life, exist as part of her life they are a far cry from the individuals she knows them to be. Her brother, Felix, has not admitted his homosexuality, going as far to marry a young woman and have children than to confess his true identity. Nathan, her long-time lover who had an affair in her “present” life is her husband in one of the alternate times…but is she as devoted to him as she should be?

As Greta’s therapy continues, so do her jumps in time. As her therapy draws to an end, however, Greta can’t help but wonder which of these realities is the life she is meant to lead. Greta attempts herself to alter each of her lives but with incredibly powerful consequences.

Obviously, one must dispel quite a bit of disbelief in reading this novel. Greer doesn’t focus on how Greta is able to travel through time, instead focusing on the journey Greta takes in examining each of her alternate lives.  While I don’t feel I necessarily bonded a great deal with Greta as a whole, I largely feel that this was in part due to the fact that she was actually three distinct and different characters instead of just one. The fact that Greer was able to do such a monumental job in developing Greta’s characters, creating them with such vast differences yet still exhibiting the same core or essence of an individual,  is clear evidence to his talent as a writer.

At the core, this novel examines relationships: with family members, lovers, and one’s self. At the onset of her therapy, Greta’s doctor’s promised the treatment would return her to who she was. The journey she takes to get there, however, is more powerful and life-altering than she could have ever imagined. If you are looking for a novel with a truly unique premise, this is the title for you. Highly recommended.

2 Responses to “Review: The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer”

  1. Rita

    Sounds like such an interesting premise; I love time travel books but have a hard time finding enjoyable ones. Too bad the character was not one you could relate to. Still all in all, seems like a good one.

    • Jenn
      Twitter: jennbookshelves

      It’s not that I couldn’t relate to her, but since she was truly three different characters in one, it was hard to connect.