The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer is an interesting take on life and how it is lived throughout the realms of time.
Although the novel has the appearance of reincarnation or alternate lives, for me, it wasn’t the case, as the main character, Greta Wells, went back and forth in time, beginning in 1985. Time travel is prevalent within the pages. The current year of 1985 plays a significant role, as Greta is suffering from deep bouts of depression. She wants to fix her present life in order to make it more meaningful. Everything has been tried on her to correct the extreme depression situation. The last resort is electroshock therapy, which is to be given twice a week in several sessions.
These sessions find her waking up in two other eras in time…1918 and 1941. In each time frame she is given electroshock therapy, due to her depression. That factor does not disappear in each realm. Her depression is a way of life for her in every level of life.
When she awakes from her first round of the therapy she is in the same room as she was in 1985. But, all of the details have been changed to suit the era of 1918. All the important people in her life are still in her early 20th century life. Some of their circumstances have changed, but in reality, their emotional and physical context remains the same. Her twin brother, Felix, who died from AIDS in 1985, is engaged to be married in 1918. Engaged, yes, but still there are underlying feelings of homosexuality. Her lover, Nathan, from 1985, is her husband, and off to war. She realizes she no longer wants to be married.
When she wakes up to find herself in 1941, she is married with a child. She is a devoted mother, a mother who soon learns her husband is having an affair. Her brother, Felix is still dealing with issues of homosexuality. The time period does not accept this type of relationship, and so she tries to help him through it.
And, so it goes, on and on. Each moment in time is infused with the difficulties of daily living. Difficulties that are the norm for that age. There is no way to change those situations. There doesn’t seem to be a way to change her life from one lifetime to the next.
Within each era there is either a war, or a life-threatening disease to contend with. That hold true in today’s world, also. When Greta travels back in time, she does not do so in order to change the world, even though she knows what will occur in the future. She ends up time traveling for the sake of it, and to experience the variations of time.
Through that mode of thinking, she will be confronted with a major decision. Should she complete her therapy, begun in 1985, and return to that time period, or should she stay in another era.
Life isn’t always what we want out of it, and we often find ourselves in circumstances beyond our control. If we had the opportunity to change one fraction of those circumstances, would we? Would we opt to live in another realm, believing we could find happiness there (not knowing the final outcome of our decision)? And, what about acceptance, would we be as accepting in one world as we are in the present world? Would we be accepted in a different world?
Love and war, forgiveness and identity, are well articulated within the pages. Scenarios of daily life from the previous eras are well depicted, and the historical aspects are well- defined. If one attempted to change their personal position or circumstances, it would not change the world as a whole, or even their own perception of Self and identity. In the end, Greer illuminates that not much has changed from one era to the next as far as social mores and stigmas.
If you like to read about time travel, and if you like to suspend your belief in reality, then The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells is a book you might enjoy.