TheImpossible LivesGretaWellsTime Travel, But It’s All The Same

3 star

By Andrew Sean Greer
ECCO, $14.99, 289 pages

A woman time travels through different versions of her life in Andrew Sean Greer’s fanciful new novel. When Greta Wells undergoes electroconvulsive therapy to relieve the depression triggered by the death of her brother and breakup with her longtime partner, she finds herself cycling through three different time periods with each successive treatment. She experiences 1918, 1941, and her own life in 1985. It is a neat hook that pulls its readers along through Greta’s wonder at discovering the lives, and more intriguingly, the secrets of her other selves. The circumstances of her 1984 life remain: her gay brother, her eccentric aunt, her withdrawn lover (her husband in 1918 and 1941), and her upscale Greenwich Village home, but they have been reshaped by the ages.

“The impossible happens once to each of us.”

Greer apparently desires to use Greta’s lives to draw links between the influenza pandemic, the world wars, the AIDS crisis, as well as the legal and social barriers placed against the freedom of women and gay men. But he increasingly fails at such scope; instead these tragedies are uncomfortably whittled down to their effect on Greta’s happiness. Even more limiting, all three Gretas, are staunchly domestic, family and romance their sole concerns. At one point, Greta bemoans that women are forever limited to the roles of “a shrew, a wife, or a whore.” Neither she, nor, more frustratingly, Greer seem to recognize that these are mostly self-imposed, or rather author-designed, restrictions.

Reviewed by Ariel Berg

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