Quantcast
Latest Stories

Meet the ‘Impossible’ Greta Wells

Live three eventful lives in one book as Andrew Sean Greer travels dramatically and poetically through time with an extraordinary woman

By

“The impossible happens once to each of us.” With that, Andrew Sean Greer explores time-travel and decision-making with his fourth novel “The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells” (Ecco Books, New York, 2013, 289 pages).

Greer has already shown us he can work wonders with a whimsical and complex concept with his previous book, the best-selling “The Confessions of Max Tivoli,” where the central character is born old, ages backward but chases the same woman in a deft exploration of something similar to what F. Scott Fitzgerald introduced with his short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

Time travel as a narrative concept is nothing new, of course, but Greer has displayed a knack for writing characters that bring the most out of an existing concept, aided by his elegant prose. He makes the idea his own. That is exactly what “Impossible Lives” offers.

After suffering through a breakup and the death of her brother in 1985, Greta Wells is bludgeoned by an uncontrollable depression and decides the best way to treat it is with the radical psychiatric treatment of electroconvulsive therapy. That treatment has the most unexpected of results: Great finds herself living two other lives, one as an adulterous wife in 1918 and another as a devoted mom in 1941. If Greer showed with his previous novel that he has the gifts to write one life well, watch what he does with three lives. “Who are we when we’re not ourselves,” Greta asks.

Twist

The twist is that all the three women are Greta, and the people around each one of those women are different versions of the people Greta knows, everyone from her twin brother to her doctor.

“Three women who wanted to escape their lives, and so we did,” Greta thinks. “We just happen to all be the same woman. So maybe I can perfect their lives. And maybe, while I’m missing, they can perfect mine.”

As Greta shuttles out-of-control between her three lives, she remains conscious of what happens when her 1985 “self” is present—she has to keep catching up whenever she returns on what her other “selves” have done. You see, the other two Gretas travel, too; they “rotate” between each other’s eras. The Greta of 1985—our narrator—sets out to do the best she can regardless of where she is.

She is searching for something, but she’s just not sure what: “A mistake, made in another world. And here: It could be righted.”

“Impossible Lives” uses the treatment as the unexplained device for Greta’s sojourns, but as she becomes more attached to her other selves, the clock on her treatment is running out; soon she will be down to her last electroconvulsive session. What will she do? “Tell me it is not too late,” she says. “Nobody could have known it was.”

The novel’s first expected draw remains Greer’s poetic writing, lovely throughout, stunning in parts. He makes the reader stop reading, short of breath, because of just how true it is: “Why is it so impossible to believe; that we are as many headed as monsters, as many armed as gods, as many hearted as the angels?”

The other gift of “Impossible Lives” is Greta herself. Greer writes her as an anguished, bewildered but utterly ordinary woman in extraordinary circumstances that the reader can’t help but identify with her. What would you do if you lost as much as she did? And what would you do if you found yourself in the same strange situation?

“That is how magic works. It takes the least likely of us, without foreshadowing, at the hour of its own choosing…  And this is exactly how, one Thursday morning, I woke up in another world.” That’s how readers will feel as well when they begin reading Andrew Sean Greer’s “The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells,” like they have a little bit of magic in their hands.

Available in paperback at National Book Store.


Follow Us


Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Andrew Sean Greer , Books , Lifestyle , The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells



Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
  1. 12 other things you can do at Pico de Loro Cove
  2. Lover’s quarrel linked to hunger – study
  3. Encounter with a ‘Mangkukulam’
  4. ‘Kamias’ for fever, ‘siling labuyo’ for headache–first aid in the kitchen
  5. How Vitamin B can be a remedy for ‘manhid’ and neuropathy
  6. Summer treat for your aspiring astronomers
  7. Sarah Geronimo and Matteo Giudicelli sing ‘All of Me’–and we all swoon
  8. Marcos grandson to wed beautiful Rocha scion
  9. 90 percent of Filipino households don’t practice proper toilet hygiene, sanitation
  10. ‘Heaven is for Real’: Nonfiction book on life after death reaches screen
  1. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  2. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  3. Marcos grandson to wed beautiful Rocha scion
  4. France makes work beyond 6 p.m. illegal
  5. Sarah Geronimo and Matteo Giudicelli sing ‘All of Me’–and we all swoon
  6. South Koreans crave Asia’s smelliest fish
  7. How Vitamin B can be a remedy for ‘manhid’ and neuropathy
  8. Ever heard of HydroBob?
  9. 90 percent of Filipino households don’t practice proper toilet hygiene, sanitation
  10. Boots Anson-Roa to wed in Eddie Baddeo
  1. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  2. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  3. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  4. Manila in shock over model Helena Belmonte’s death
  5. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  6. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  7. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  8. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  9. Sen. Angara: I thought Pia Wurtzbach gave a good answer
  10. Ex-Givenchy model fights for ‘Yolanda’ survivors

News

  • UN warns banana fungus spreading from Southeast Asia
  • Massive infra spending set
  • ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  • Cardinal Tagle to faithful: Join politics to clean it
  • Our Lady of Piat: Centerpiece of Cagayan’s gifts to Christianity
  • Sports

  • Federer would skip tennis to be with wife, newborn
  • Manny Pacquiao in PBA? If so, he’ll wear No. 17
  • PSC sets Blu Girls US training
  • Power Pinoys settle for 7th place
  • Successful coaches to get raise
  • Lifestyle

  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • This is not just a farm
  • Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  • Moist, extra-tender blueberry muffins
  • The truffled mac ‘n’ cheese, eggs benedict, chicken leg confit are excellent
  • Entertainment

  • Why Lucky has not bought an engagement ring for Angel
  • Derek more private with new girlfriend
  • ‘Community’ star happy with return of show’s creator
  • Jealousy is kid stuff
  • Mommy-daughter adventure continues
  • Business

  • PH presses bid to keep rice import controls
  • PSEi continues to gain
  • Number of retrenched workers rose by 42% in ’13
  • PH seen to sustain rise in FDIs
  • Gov’t subsidies to state firms fell in first 2 months
  • Technology

  • Smart phone apps and sites perfect for the Holy Week
  • Tech company: Change passwords or suffer ‘Heartbleed’
  • Filling the digital talent gap
  • SSS to shut down website for Holy Week
  • Another reason to quit social media this Holy Week: your safety
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • First Fil-Am elected to Sierra Madre, Calif. city council
  • UC Irvine cultural night to dramatize clash of values in immigrant family
  • Filipino sweets and info served at UC Berkeley Spring Fest
  • Milpitas, California kids wrap up a successful run of ‘The Wiz’
  • Netizens welcome Japan’s visa-free travel plan
    Marketplace