Inderjit (@InderjitDeogun) is an Art History graduate, an environmentalist and a loud-and-proud bookworm. When she’s not fighting against climate change, she has her nose stuck in a book. With a particular love for children’s literature, Inderjit believes a word can be worth a thousand pictures. This is her second year participating in the 50 Book Pledge. To visit Inderjit’s bookshelf click here and be sure to check back monthly for her 50 Book Pledge updates!
Have you ever wished you could go back in time to relive or undo a moment, an interaction, a day? Where would you go? What would you do? Well, I have. Perhaps a little too often then I’d care to admit. Andrew Sean Greer, author of The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, tackles these questions and asks a greater one of both his protagonist and his readers: “When you were a little girl is this the woman you dreamed of becoming?”
I don’t think this is an easy question for any woman, myself included, and the same is true for Greta. Greta Wells’ beloved twin brother, Felix, has just died; her longtime lover, Nathan, has just left her; and Greta finds herself in the clutches of a debilitating depression she cannot shake. In desperate hopes of ending her loneliness, Greta turns to electroconvulsive therapy. It is a radical treatment with an unforeseen effect: after every treatment session, Greta is transported through time. And it’s not just her but two other Gretas that jump between 1985, 1918 and 1941.
You may begin this book thinking that the typical back to the future fare awaits you. But instead Greer has created a narrative that’s so raw it pierces your heart. So powerful that you’re forced to stop reading just so you can gather yourself. He makes you feel every emotion Greta feels without apology.
A man would refuse to choose; a man would have the right. But I had only three worlds to choose from, and which of them was happiness? All I wanted was love. A simple thing, a timeless thing. When men want love they sing for it, or smile for it, or pay for it. And what do women do? They choose. And their lives are struck like bronze medallions. So tell me, gentlemen, tell me the time and place where it was easy to be a woman?
The emotional upheaval that Greer presents is only one side of the story. The other is his ability to understand the complexities of Greta’s thinking. She’s not jumping from year to year simply to experience another time period. But she’s on a mission to comprehend why things have turned out the way they have and how, if at all, she can improve them.
Perhaps one day they will invent a camera to capture the fleeting self—not the soul, but the self—and we can truly see which one we were, on any particular day, and mark the shifting lives we lead that we pretend belong to one person alone. Why is it so impossible to believe: that we are as many headed as monsters, as many armed as gods, as many hearted as angles?
In the pages of The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, Greer crafts a story with the belief that ‘the impossible happens once to each of us.’ I closed the book taking that belief with me. And look forward to the moment when I see the impossible happen in my own life.
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