The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

16065595The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells
Andrew Sean Greer
© 2013

I have a prediction: Rachel McAdams will play Greta Wells in the movie adaptation of this book.  I know that’s a completely random thing to say, but bear with me.

I just saw the trailer for the new movie, About Time.  About Time is about a kid who can time-travel at will.  If something goes wrong, he can go back and fix it.  If something goes well, he can relive it.  It stars Rachel McAdams as the sweet and lovely love-interest of the aforementioned time traveler.  If you haven’t yet seen the trailer, here it is:

When I first saw the trailer, it reminded me immediately of The Time Traveler’s Wife, a movie based on the book of the same name by Audrey Niffenegger.  The Time Traveler’s Wife is about a man who has a genetic disorder that causes him to time-travel randomly and uncontrollably.  It stars Rachel McAdams as the sweet and lovely love-interest of the aforementioned time traveler.  Sound familiar?  If you haven’t seen the movie (or would like a refresher), here’s the trailer:

Did you notice that both of those two-and-a-half-minute trailers include a nearly identical marriage proposal, where McAdams is lying in bed, the time traveler is next to the bed, and McAdams gives an irreverent response?  I haven’t seen About Time yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s the exact same movie as The Time Traveler’s Wife.  Give or take.

McAdams has clearly found her niche (let’s not forget that she was also in Midnight in Paris, where she played love interest of yet another time traveler).  She makes millions making the same movie over and over again.  Which is why, as I said at the outset, we can expect her to be Greta Wells in the movie adaptation of this book.

This one will be a slight stretch for her, though, because instead of being the sweet and lovely love-interest of the time traveler, she will have to be the actual time traveler.

The premise of this time-traveling tale can be summed up in this quotation from the beginning of the book:

They say there are many worlds.  All around our own, packed tight as the cells of your heart.  Each with its own logic, its own physics, moons, and stars.  We cannot go there—we would not survive in most.  But there are some, as I have seen, almost exactly like our own—like the fairy worlds my aunt used to tease us with.  You make a wish, and another world is formed in which that wish comes true, though you may never see it.  And in those other worlds, the places you love are there, the people you love are there.  Perhaps in one of them, all rights are wronged and life is as you wish it.  So what if you found the door?  And what if you had the key?

Greta, of course, finds that key.

1985 Greta is the first-person narrator of the book.  Her twin brother, Felix, dies of AIDS, and her boyfriend of eight years, Nathan, cheats on her and leaves her.  Felix’s partner, Alan, is also dying.  Greta falls into a serious depression.  She tries various meds without success and finally resorts to ECT (electro-convulsive therapy).

As it turns out, ECT is the key to those other worlds.  The morning after her first session of ECT, 1985 Greta wakes up in 1918.  The characters are the same, but everything is different.   Her brother, Felix, is engaged.  Nathan is her husband, but he is away at war.  As it turns out, 1918 Greta has been undergoing ECT, as well (a more primitive variety, with a capacitor and a Leyden jar), and the Gretas are switching places with each round of therapy.

After her second round of ECT, 1985 Greta wakes up in 1941 (“It seemed so possible that I could be somewhere else, again, that each morning would unfold anew like a pop-up book of possible lives”).  This time, Greta is married to Nathan, and they have a son, Felix.  Her brother, Felix, is married and has a son.  Alan is his lawyer.  Greta has just been in a car accident and has a broken arm and is also undergoing ECT.

After each session of ECT, the three Gretas switch places.  The Gretas, all unhappy for different reasons in their own lives and worlds, set out to help make things right for the Gretas in the other worlds/times.

But the book isn’t as happily-ever-after as most time-traveling tales.  Greta notes:

I knew that not all lives are equal, the time we live in affects the person we are, more than I had ever thought.  Some have a harder chance.  Some get no chance at all.  With great sadness, I saw so many people born in the wrong time to be happy.

Rating: 2.5/5  

I’ve been reading a lot of books lately that jump from time period to time period and storyline to storyline (The Flamethrowers, The Engagements, The Girl You Left Behind, to name a few).  Tellingly, none of these books has gotten a rating above a 2.5.  It’s difficult to bounce among different times and places and develop all of them (and their individual characters) in a way that is complete and interesting and engaging.

The time-travel story has been done again and again and again.  Nothing about this one in particular was especially unique.  But it’s a very quick, light read.

Who should read it: Mom (i.e., people who like time-travel love stories like The Time Traveler’s Wife and enjoy fluff).

One final note: Happy Thanksgiving!  Wishing you all a very happy, healthy, overindulgent holiday.

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2 thoughts on “The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

  1. Okay then. In the first instance, a trailer with Rachel McAdams lying languorously in bed is not a bad way to sell a romantic movie to the male half of a relationship.

    As to time travel books, there is only one that needs reading and that is Jack Finney’s Time and Again. After that, everything else is easily passed over. Well, except perhaps for Finney’s time-related short stories, About Time (some of which I think ended up as Twilight Zone episodes). Hard to believe that an author best known for Invasion of the Body Snatchers could write this way but there you are.

    (On reflection, Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court sholdl also be on the time travel should-read list.)

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