The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

May 23, 2014 at 12:33 am Leave a comment

16065595Have you ever read a book that made you just grateful to be alive? The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells was like that for me — one of those books that made me keep stopping in the middle to hug my dog and my boyfriend and be grateful I was not in the mess this woman was in.

The basic plot: Greta Wells is devastated at the death of her twin brother, Felix. After months of her not being able to get out of bed, Greta’s doctor recommends electroconvulsive therapy, which is the electroshock with which readers of The Bell Jar will be familiar. But after her first treatment, Greta finds herself transported from her own life in 1985 to separate, parallel lives in 1941 and 1918.

In all, she is struck by the same problems: how to love and be loved by her husband/lover, how to support her gay brother despite society, and how to be a loving mother while doing all of that. She soon discovers that she is not the only one shifting worlds — 1918 Greta and 1941 Greta are doing the same thing, bouncing back and forth each time all of them have an electroshock treatment. These other Gretas, of course, cause problems in the original Greta’s world as well as each others’.

Parts of this book are so unbearably sad. Oddly enough, these are the parts that ring the most true. Who can imagine comforting a husband who is sobbing heartbroken in the bathroom after breaking up with his lover — a lover another version of yourself drove him to, as that other version had also had an affair? The poignancy of sending someone else’s husband off to war, too, is nicely displayed.

However, I am not sure I loved the conclusion. Novels, for me, should show me how to live, at least present me with a window into someone else’s life and allow me to think through the decisions the characters make and wonder if I would have made the same ones. To me, this ending felt like cheating — like Greta had been presented with an easy way out, a way to avoid consequences.

I believe the point was that all life is imperfect, and that making choices requires sacrifice. I get that. But for me, the choice wasn’t enough of a sacrifice for Greta. The chance to bring someone back from the dead, just for her, trumps almost anything else…even when it means killing off that same person for a previous version of herself.

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Entry filed under: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction. Tags: , .

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