The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells: A Novel

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells: A Novel

3.4 15
by Andrew Sean Greer
     
 

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From the critically acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller The Confessions of Max Tivoli comes The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, a rapturously romantic story of a woman who finds herself transported to the “other lives” she might have lived.

After the death of her beloved twin brother and the abandonment of

Overview

From the critically acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller The Confessions of Max Tivoli comes The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, a rapturously romantic story of a woman who finds herself transported to the “other lives” she might have lived.

After the death of her beloved twin brother and the abandonment of her long-time lover, Greta Wells undergoes electroshock therapy. Over the course of the treatment, Greta finds herself repeatedly sent to 1918, 1941, and back to the present. Whisked from the gas-lit streets and horse-drawn carriages of the West Village to a martini-fueled lunch at the Oak Room, in these other worlds, Greta finds her brother alive and well—though fearfully masking his true personality. And her former lover is now her devoted husband…but will he be unfaithful to her in this life as well? Greta Wells is fascinated by her alter egos: in 1941, she is a devoted mother; in 1918, she is a bohemian adulteress.

In this spellbinding novel by Andrew Sean Greer, each reality has its own losses, its own rewards; each extracts a different price. Which life will she choose as she wrestles with the unpredictability of love and the consequences of even her most carefully considered choices?

Editorial Reviews

Greta Wells is in deep crisis. Her marriage has failed; her twin brother is dead of AIDS; and she is suffering from severe depression. Left with few alternatives, she submits to three rounds of shock treatments, each of which transports her to a different time: 1918; 1941; 1985. With each landing, Greta experiences different challenges, rewards, and losses; but looming above these visitations is the big question: In what world will Greta finally remain? A luminous read for fans of novels like Benjamin Button or The Time Traveler's Wife. Editor's recommendation.

Library Journal
Greer's (The Story of a Marriage; The Confessions of Max Tivoli) imaginative treatment of love and relationships shines again in his third novel. It is 1985 when Greta is faced with a debilitating depression after the death of her twin brother, Felix, and shortly thereafter the end of her marriage. She seeks electroconvulsive treatment, a succession of 25 procedures, for her condition. The doctor assures her it will not change her, only alleviate her depression. But with each treatment, a door is opened to a different life, either in 1918, 1941, or 1985. Although Greta keeps her feelings intact for her beloved brother, her former husband, Nathan, and her Aunt Ruth, the relationships change and mutate in each era she experiences. As her time travel escalates outsides the boundaries of her understanding and logic, Greta is faced with bracing herself for the unknown. VERDICT Fans of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife will delight in following the thought process of time traveling while maintaining a hold on a singular identity. [See Prepub Alert, 1/6/13.]—Susan Carr, Edwardsville P.L., IL
The New York Times Book Review - David Leavitt
Elegiac in tone, this tale of time travel, loss and compromise is as precisely engineered as a Swiss watch…To his immense credit, Greer…manages the complexities of this temporal round robin with precision and panache.
Publishers Weekly
In Greer’s time-traveling fourth novel (following The Story of a Marriage), the eponymous Greta skips between three different eras, and her life is intertwined with the same two characters (and other incarnations of herself) in each. Greta Wells, living in New York City in 1985, is devastated by her twin brother Felix’s death from AIDS and the end of her long-term relationship with Nathan. To treat her crippling depression, she pursues electroconvulsive therapy, which begins a cycle of magical time travel. In 1941, Felix is alive and Nathan is her husband; and in 1918, Nathan is away at war and Felix, though still homosexual, is deeply closeted. As the Greta of 1985 explores these timelines, the versions of herself from 1918 and 1941 also travel to each other’s eras. No timeline is perfect; each offers losses and compensations. Felix’s stories provide an especially moving exploration of the limited choices available to gay people throughout history. The Gretas have surprisingly little solidarity, intruding into each other’s lives without warning or permission. While Greer too often skimps on the period details that can give time travel stories a sense of reality, the novel’s central questions—how does experience change us, and which relationships are worth sacrificing for—work to bridge its chronological jumps. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit. (June)
Miami Herald
“…emotionally rich…Greer is an artful, elegant writer…The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells is a deeply romantic book.”
Booklist
“Philosophically intriguing as well as gorgeously imagined and executed, this novel will catch fire with the same audience that propelled The Time Traveler’s Wife to the top of the bestseller list.”
Time Out New York
“…elegant and wistful…”
New York Times Book Review
“Elegiac in tone, this tale of time travel, loss and comprimise is as precisely engineered as a Swiss watch. [Greer] manages the complexities of this temporal round robin with precision and panache…a generous novel…”
John Irving
“The premise of this novel isn’t that a woman travels through time: it’s that ‘the impossible happens once to each of us’…What this wonderful novel teaches us is how magic works.”
Michael Chabon
“Andrew Sean Greer is one of the most talented writers around, feeling and funny, with a genuinely fine prose style and a sensibility to match.”
Jayne Anne Phillips
“Andrew Sean Greer’s The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells is a luminous inquiry into time itself, and Greta Wells, in her transit between three lives, is his most assured creation. What a lovely novel: stirring, inclusive, forgiving, and extraordinarily hopeful.”
Colum McCann
“Andy Sean Greer writes with an intelligent joy that encompasses a truly kaleidoscopic vision, reminding me of the work of Peter Carey and David Mitchell. This novel is beautifully sewn together.”
Real Simple
“This novel is a guilty pleasure of sorts for anyone who has ever wondered, What if? We’re taught not to dwell on paths not taken, but this book weaves a tale about the magical possibility of what could have been.”
The Daily Beast
“…The magical conceit here is well earned and imagined rather than gimmicky, and Greer writes with an acute sensivity for the wonderment taht underpins the human experience.”
Julie Orringer
“No one tells the secrets of the human heart more bravely or eloquently than Andrew Sean Greer. He has been called our Proust, our Nabokov, but with this novel he transcends all comparison. This is a genius-stroke of a book. Read it and weep.”
Kirkus Reviews
A woman inhabits three different selves in a time-travel novel from an author long fascinated by the manipulation of time (The Confessions of Max Tivoli, 2004, etc.). Young men are dying like flies. It's 1985, and AIDS is rampant, especially in Greenwich Village, where Greta Wells is mourning the death of her beloved twin brother, Felix. Not only that: Her longtime lover, Nathan, has left her for a younger woman. "Any time but this one" is what Greta yearns for. Her prayer is answered, sort of, when she begins a course of electroconvulsive procedures and finds herself, an earlier Greta, in 1918. Husband Nathan is away at war (about to end); on the homefront, Greta has an admirer, Leo, a virginal actor, while brother Felix, deep in the closet, is set to marry a senator's daughter. After her next procedure, Greta is in 1941, shortly before Pearl Harbor. Here again, she and Nathan are married, with a small son; she's recovering from a car accident. Felix, no longer in denial, is having a secret affair with Alan (by 1985, they'll be all the way out); when he's busted in a gay bar, his wife will divorce him. Another day, another procedure, another time shift. Greta is just a bird of passage in these other eras, which are quite as turbulent as her own: on the national scale, war and pestilence (the 1918 flu epidemic); on the domestic scale, infidelities (both earlier Nathans were cheating on her, while Greta's one night with Leo led to her pregnancy). Greta is monitoring two emotional upheavals, her own and those of Felix; all this leads to more confusion than enlightenment. Punches are pulled (Greta fails to confront the 1941 Nathan over his adultery), and melodrama blooms. Was all the back and forth worth it when all it yields is a small epiphany? The Confessions of Max Tivoli was more inventive and more satisfying.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062213846
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/25/2013
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
90,519
File size:
1 MB

What People are saying about this

John Irving

“The premise of this novel isn’t that a woman travels through time: it’s that ‘the impossible happens once to each of us’…What this wonderful novel teaches us is how magic works.”

Michael Chabon

“Andrew Sean Greer is one of the most talented writers around, feeling and funny, with a genuinely fine prose style and a sensibility to match.”

Meet the Author

Andrew Sean Greer is the bestselling author of The Story of a Marriage and The Confessions of Max Tivoli, which was a Today book club selection and received a California Book Award. He lives in San Francisco.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
San Francisco, California
Date of Birth:
November 21, 1970
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
Education:
B.A. in English, Brown University, 1992; M.F.A . in Fiction, University of Montana, 1996

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The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells 3.4 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a turn of phrase Mr. Greer has! This book combines so many messages - hope, despair, love, acceptance - all with a time-travel plot that is unexpected but somehow rings true. I got from this that we are all one person but with many personas, and one cannot exist without the other. How true, and I will be reading the rest of his books now that I've discovered him!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
...like alternate lives (or is it reincaration?), free will, boundaries, and the nature of time, all in a palatable serving of fiction. Greta Wells in 1985 has lost her twin brother to AIDS and her long-time lover to ennui and discontent. Now she suffers from debilitating depression that won't respond to anything but a series of electroshock sessions. The mechanism used by her doctor not only propels her out of her funk, it knocks Greta from 1985 into different time periods. She's still herself, but she steps into another Greta's life, with friends and relatives there as well, but playing different roles in these alternate lives. Her present day ex-lover is there in 1918, but unhappily involved with another. Her twin brother is alive, but a closeted gay man who affects nonchalance about his furtive liasons. In 1941, her beloved aunt, an emotional bulwark in both 1918 and 1985, died in a traffic accident, and Greta suffers the loss months after 1941 Greta mourned. This Greta is married with kids, but wondering if domesticity is really enough to fulfill her. Someone said that time exists so everything won't happen all at once, and space exists so it doesn't happen on top of itself. Einstein posited that perception is distorted when traveling near the speed of light (as one would if they could go to different eras); Heisenberg pointed out that merely perceiving an act could and would change the outcome of that act. When one of the Gretas opts not to undergo her scheduled shock treatment, it makes today's Greta fearful-- and excited. Can she make it back to 1985? Can she change her life so completely, and step on to an alternate path for more than just the few days between sessions? Does she really want to? questions we all must ask if we are to live an examined life. If not we succumb to quiet desperation, and Greta has been undergoing multiple shock treatments to escape that desperation. Her journey(s) make for an interesting ride. RoseQuartz29
gaylelin More than 1 year ago
I GIVE FIVE STARS TO THE IMPOSSIBLE LIVES OF GRETA WELLS. (Some people on Goodreads¿ were not very kind, and their reasons for low scores made no sense.) I don't care what anyone else thinks, I still give it five stars. Heck, I'd probably give Andrew Sean Greer¿ five stars on his looks alone. Now, that that's out of the way, this is the first book of Greer's that I've read, and his writing is beautiful. If he told the same story over and over, but used different descriptions, I'd read them all. Example: "I found Mrs. Green in the living room, looking out the window at the raindrops, each with a tiny streetlight tucked inside it." This is a time travel story in which shock treatments for depression cause the protagonist to move in and out of 1919, 1941, and 1985. The only thing that would have made this better for me, would be for me to be familiar with the streets of NYC. Then I could have pictured it all. Perhaps a movie will do that for me. Buy this book!
Anonymous 9 months ago
Though the writing was different and interesting, some parts of the book dragged on. The overall idea of swapping lives with yourself is interesting. Just personally wasn't a fan of the speed, setting, or characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel of family, love and loss. The time travel component was well used to address the question everyone who has lost someone has... what if?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The ending was predictable but what exactly happened to Felix in the 1919 version? I'm guessing Ingrid's dad's people caught up to him? It was a good, sad story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written story of love, loss, and time travel
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Depressing whatever lives buska
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
big time snooze. just another run of the mill "who am I and who do I want to be" book. No insite