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THE IMPOSSIBLE LIVES OF GRETA WELLS by Andrew Sean Greer

THE IMPOSSIBLE LIVES OF GRETA WELLS

By Andrew Sean Greer

Pub Date: June 25th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-221378-5
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

A woman inhabits three different selves in a time-travel novel from an author long fascinated by the manipulation of time (The Confessions of Max Tivoli, 2004, etc.).

Young men are dying like flies. It’s 1985, and AIDS is rampant, especially in Greenwich Village, where Greta Wells is mourning the death of her beloved twin brother, Felix. Not only that: Her longtime lover, Nathan, has left her for a younger woman. “Any time but this one” is what Greta yearns for. Her prayer is answered, sort of, when she begins a course of electroconvulsive procedures and finds herself, an earlier Greta, in 1918. Husband Nathan is away at war (about to end); on the homefront, Greta has an admirer, Leo, a virginal actor, while brother Felix, deep in the closet, is set to marry a senator’s daughter. After her next procedure, Greta is in 1941, shortly before Pearl Harbor. Here again, she and Nathan are married, with a small son; she’s recovering from a car accident. Felix, no longer in denial, is having a secret affair with Alan (by 1985, they’ll be all the way out); when he’s busted in a gay bar, his wife will divorce him. Another day, another procedure, another time shift. Greta is just a bird of passage in these other eras, which are quite as turbulent as her own: on the national scale, war and pestilence (the 1918 flu epidemic); on the domestic scale, infidelities (both earlier Nathans were cheating on her, while Greta’s one night with Leo led to her pregnancy). Greta is monitoring two emotional upheavals, her own and those of Felix; all this leads to more confusion than enlightenment. Punches are pulled (Greta fails to confront the 1941 Nathan over his adultery), and melodrama blooms. Was all the back and forth worth it when all it yields is a small epiphany?

The Confessions of Max Tivoli was more inventive and more satisfying.