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The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells
Photo courtesy of Carolyn Meers

Andrew Sean Greer has a thing about time. His best-selling book The Confessions of Max Tivoli was told from the perspective of a man aging backward. His debut novel, The Path of Minor Planets, imagined a love affair in 24-year orbit. And his newest effort, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, chronicles a woman who lives the same life in three different time periods.

The book opens in 1985 with Greta in crisis: Her long-term boyfriend, Nathan, has left, and her brother, Felix, has recently died of AIDS. Severely depressed, Greta undergoes an experimental psychiatric treatment that--wait for it--transports her back and forth to the lives she might have lived in 1918 and 1941 (with brief stints in 1985).

In each era, things are the same but different: The 1918 Greta is married to Nathan, but he’s away at war. In 1941, Felix is alive but closeted. (He’s having a secret affair with his 1985 lover.) And in every “life,” Greta searches for the same, nebulous happiness.

Greer isn’t particularly interested in the mechanics of time travel (which is a relief since there’s already a lot to keep track of here). Rather, he wants to know how our circumstances affect our choices and what we’d do differently in another world.

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