Bookworm: 'The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells' asks forever question of 'what if'

Kathleen Duncan

Aug. 21, 2013 at 3:21 a.m.

Greta Wells has lost everything. Her brother, Felix, passed away; her cold, unfaithful lover, Nathan, has abandoned her. She is hopeless and lost. After spinning deep into her depression with no solution at hand, her doctor recommends shock therapy to help her recover.

Shockingly enough (ha, ha), her treatments send her back to alternate lives, one in 1918 and in 1941. Those Gretas have taken different paths in life that revolve around the same people - Felix, Nathan and her aunt, Ruth.

In one life, Greta is married to Nathan with a child; in another, she is cheating on him with a young man she is in love with. As Greta takes over each life with each treatment, she begins to wonder how different her life could have been.

A plot full of possibilities, we see how paths can change with one simple decision. The decision to stay, to leave, to forgive, to lie, to cheat and even the decision to love someone in the face of numerous challenges.

"The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells" by Andrew Sean Greer is a nice story with elements of magic and mystery. It's alluring to see each Greta's life change as they switch places. Every Greta is shaped by choice, fate and blind luck.

I admit, I wasn't completely entranced by this novel; I think the idea of the novel is stronger than the execution of it. I expected extremely vivid writing that would transport me into each time period with eloquent descriptions to make me feel and see and smell the history of each setting. I didn't experience that, but the plot was absorbing enough to make me stick with Greta until the end.

Greta's story begins so tragically that we can't help but hope that by the last page she will be in a better place, whether that be in the past or the present.

A novel that explores the possibilities of the most elusive question - "What if?" - leaves us with the hope that no matter what path we end up on, we will end up where we're meant to be.



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