In 1985, Greta Wells, of Patchin Place in Greenwich Village, is sliding deeper and deeper into an unshakeable depression. Her brother Felix has died from AIDs, and Greta's longtime lover, Nathan, has left her for another woman. The only person left in her life is her flamboyant aunt, Ruth, who lives downstairs.
Other methods having failed, Greta decides to try electroconvulsive therapy to shake off her depression. After the first of 24 planned sessions, she wakes up in her bedroom at Patchin Place, but everything looks different. And it is different, because inside and outside Patchin Place, it's late 1918. Greta is still Greta and aunt Ruth still lives downstairs, but Felix is alive and Nathan is married to Greta. After the second treatment, she finds herself in 1941, and after the third, back in 1985.
As Greta cycles through the different worlds, she observes her various selves and the people she loves, and the different choices they've all made, in part because of the times they live in. And, as Ruth observes, she's always trying to make things better, to save those she loves from the wreckage.
I didn't so much read this book as fall into it. Before the story's text began, it felt magical, with its antique-style maps of Manhattan and Greenwich Village. Though it's a time-travel book, it's not about the technicalities and paradoxes of time travel. Greta's travels through time are simply the way she explores other possibilities for her life.
|A not-so-antique map. Patchin Pl. is upper right.|
Even during times of trouble and heartbreak, Greer's characters don't just inhabit their lives; they appreciate every experience and are fully aware of all that surrounds them. As Aunt Ruth observes, "Life, it's so unlikely. It's so much better than we think it is, isn't it?"
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells was published on June 25, by Ecco, and I'm willing to bet it will (deservedly) be on many book club reading lists in the coming year.
Note: I received a free publisher's review copy of the book. Versions of this review may appear on Amazon, Goodreads, and other reviewing sites under my user names there.