Saturday, July 20, 2013

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

God, this was such a wonderful, magical, and special book, I didn't want it to end! I had forgotten just how much I love the way Andrew Sean Greer writes.

In 1985, Greta Wells has been devastated by double blows—the death of Felix, her beloved twin brother, and the end of her long relationship with her lover, Nathan. Distraught over these losses, and the impending loss of her brother's lover, Alan (it's the early days of AIDS in New York City), she turns to a long course of electro-convulsive therapy as treatment for her depression.

But the treatments have an unexpected side-effect: it transports her between her current life and the lives she would have lived in different eras. In 1918, she lives a bohemian lifestyle, and embarks on a second romantic relationship; in 1941, she is married and has a young son. Yet even as she embodies the different Gretas and immerses herself in their lives, she is aware of what has transpired in her real 1985-era life, and isn't sure which life she really wants to live. "Don't bring me back, I remember thinking: Take me away."

The people in her life in 1985—Felix, Nathan, Alan, and her eccentric aunt, Ruth—all figure in some way in 1918 and 1941. And even though Greta knows what will happen to their future selves, she can't help but want to try and make things happen to ensure at least some of the characters find happiness. But to get to experience life with those you've lost is an incredibly poignant and cherished opportunity Greta doesn't want to lose, even as she points Felix, Nathan, and Alan toward their destinies.

"Is there any greater pain to know what could be, and yet be powerless to make it be?"

This is such a beautifully written, special book. I can only imagine what it might be like to have the chance to spend time with loved ones I've lost one way or another, even if they're a little different from the way I remember them. This is more than a book about time travel—it's a book about relationships, about always knowing what your heart wants, and about how even when we lose people there's always a part of them that stays with us. And one of the things I liked best about the story was that Greer didn't try to explain why Greta was being transported into different eras, so what occurred didn't lose its magic.

If you like books which touch the heart, even if they're not the most realistic in terms of plot (although who says this didn't happen), you're going to love The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells. And hopefully, like me, you'll enjoy it so much you'll want to finish it and yet be sad when it's finished. Truly wonderful.

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