The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer slipped through my radar when it came out. I had meant to read it, but then forgot. My daughter read it recently and recommended it to me, so I jumped at it.
The story is told in three parts: October to November, November to December, and December to End. Each chapter is about one of three years: 1918, 1945, or 1985.
The story begins in 1985 with:
"The impossible happens once to each of us."
Greta Wells was living in Patchin Place in New York City. Greta was out walking with her twin brother, Felix when they walked passed a hair salon.
In the window, a sign: CLOSED FOR BUSINESS. My brother stood for a minute while Lady (a dog) considered the tree. Felix simply said 'Gone home.'Later that year, Greta's twin brother, Felix, died of AIDS. She had been living with a doctor, Nathan, for the past ten years. And then he left her.for someone else. Greta was inconsolable following these two losses and finally went to a psychiatrist, Dr. Cerletti. Her aunt Ruth was with her constantly trying to help her.
That was the phrase: journal of a plague year."
Finally the doctor decided that Greta needed electroshock therapy. He recommended twenty-five sessions, with two sessions per week. And after the first session, Greta found herself living in the same day as present only in a different room, still in Patchin Place, but in 1918. All the same people were there in her life., but Nathan was away at war, Felix was marrying a Senator's daughter, and Ruth remained the same. Dr. Cerletti came for Greta's next session. And she woke in 1945. The next session she woke in 1985. And so on.
The book made me think of reincarnation. Greta was living an actual life in each of these years as herself. In the end, she had to choose which year she wanted to remain in.
I loved the writing in this book. It was sometimes hard to keep straight what year was happening, but that may just be me. The author's writing was beautiful.
"Is it better to hear of death or witness it? For I had suffered both and could not tell you. To have a person vanish in your arms is too real for life, a blow to the bones, but to hear of it is to be utterly blind; reaching, stumbling about, hoping to touch the truth. Impossible, unbearable, what life has planned for each of us."