Ebershoff, executive editor at Random House, tells the story of a man who gets turned into a woman: a leisurely and old-fashioned first novel that will doubtless be riveting to many; others may find it a grandiose canvas for what it actually offers.
Though the talented and energetic Greta Waud was born in 1897 in Pasadena, European ties led her family to Copenhagen, where they stayed until WWI frightened them back to the West Coast. Greta’s new love for her shy Danish painting instructor, Einar Wegener, appeared doomed by this retreat, and, back in California, she married an artist named Teddy Cross—a union happy until Teddy’s death from TB. Single again, Greta returned to Copenhagen to pursue her painting—and to marry the delicate Einar, who remained just as available as he—d been before the war. Years pass, until, one day in 1925, Greta, by now a working portraitist, asks Einar to stand in as model for her absent subject by putting on the woman’s stockings and dress—and awakens Einar’s long-suppressed desire, from earliest boyhood, to be but a woman. As this recognition strengthens, Einar cross-dresses more often, goes out alone—is even courted by a young man. Ever understanding and tolerant, Greta consults a doctor, whose suggestion that Einar be immured scares the couple off to permanent residence in Paris. With the help of Greta’s brother Carlisle and Einar’s boyhood friend Hans Axgil—now an art dealer, representing Greta’s portraits of the wan Lili, which sell like hotcakes—more doctors are consulted, all benighted except for Professor Doctor Bolk, of Dresden, who understands perfectly and agrees to perform the surgery that will be the beginning of profound changes, joys, and sorrows in the lives of all involved.
Gripping, though inconsistently, with Greta more compelling than Lili. And, for those so inclined, a hyperdetailed tour of times long gone.