July 2013

Loss follows a time-traveler

By Andrew Sean Greer
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It’s clear that 1985 hasn’t been Greta Wells’ year. Reeling from the death of her twin brother and the shock of her longtime partner walking out on her, Greta feels as if the very foundation of her life is crumbling and threatening to take her with it. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so in a last-ditch attempt at happiness, Greta turns to electroshock therapy, hoping it will help dispel the quagmire of depression and despair she finds herself sinking into. The treatment is not without consequence, however: With each electrifying session, Greta finds herself transported through time, sliding seamlessly into lives in different decades that, with but the slightest shuffling of fate’s deck of cards, could have been her own.

Which life will Greer's time-traveler heroine choose?

As Greta bounces from her 1918 persona of oppressed housewife with a secret lover, to a doting mother and picture-perfect wife in 1941 and back to 1985 once more, she revels in the return of loved ones she feared were forever out of reach, while also grappling with the struggles and losses that seem to reverberate throughout each lifetime. The harsh boundaries between the lives begin to soften as the burdens that each Greta carries can no longer be ignored and the consequences of their actions become increasingly difficult to compartmentalize. With the end of her treatment drawing near, Greta faces a race to set everything right and must prepare herself to choose the one life in which happily ever after has the potential to exist right now.

In The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, Andrew Sean Greer masterfully harnesses the dizzying powers of his imagination to explore the intoxicating question of “what if?” in a story that proves utterly enchanting. Greer writes with a thoughtfulness and elegance that allows the multiple storylines to coalesce easily into something that is both larger than life and the very essence of it. Though the time-travel may initially throw some readers for a loop, the quandaries that Greta faces are sufficiently universal and convincing—and Greer’s storytelling so skillful—that within the pages of fiction, the impossible has never seemed so attainable, or so real.

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