The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer

impossiblelivesThe description of this one reminded me a lot of another new release this year, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, which I loved so much. In The Impossible Lives, instead of a woman coming back to relive the same life over and over, Greta Wells gets sent back (via electro-convulsive therapy which she is receiving as treatment for depression) to different versions of her own life. She lives in 1980s New York and has just lost her brother to the AIDS epidemic; she awakes from a shock treatment and finds herself in 1918 New York, with her brother alive and well but a different plague — the Spanish Flu — sweeping the city. Another treatment, and she’s in 1941 New York, on the brink of yet another war. Some things are consistent — she always lives in the same place, though the neighbourhood changes around her; her family members and close friends appear in each version of her life, but though she sees similarities, there are differences too, both in the people Greta loves and how she relates to them.

What makes this particular time-travel tale interesting is that although we see it all from the perspective of 1980s Greta, it becomes clear that 1918 Greta and 1941 Greta (all of whom are receiving ECT) are time-travelling too, spending time in each other’s worlds and trying to change things — often, to “fix” things — while they’re there. This creates a certain amount of confusion (sometimes for the reader too). Ultimately, Greta must decide which version of her life she wants to stay in, and how she can best function there.

This isn’t the best time-travel novel I’ve ever read, but it was intriguing, and well worth reading.


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Filed under Fiction -- historical

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