I really have no idea

Monologue discussion: The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer

Unfortunately I could not find the reading guides for this book, but I can use the general reading guides provided by LitLovers to have a small discussion. Here goes nothing. Obviously this would not be spoiler free, click through if you have read the book or you don’t mind any spoiler.

How did you experience the book?

It wasn’t easy to like or enjoy this book. I was very angry by Greta’s view on life after the death of her twin. There’s nothing easy about losing a family member, but I just could not fathom how Greta just slip away from her life, but as the story progresses it was sort of understandable although I would not encourage that sort of attitude. And then you get to see the other side of Greta as she lived her life in the alternate universe of the other Greta. How she tried to make sense of the lives of the other Greta with their own sets of troubles and problems. That is what made me enjoy this book. Greta was fighting to get back into her life without even realising it and at the end she found her cause that is worth fighting for. It was such a beautiful read, if I may say so.

Describe the main characters—personality traits, motivations, inner qualities.

I don’t know, I just get the feeling that even before the death of her twin, Great has always been more reserved. That is why it was very hard for her to escape the pain of losing her twin, she had always looked up to her twin as the source of her life. Even from the beginning, her motivation was clear as crystal, more than anything she wants to bring back her twin to life. I know it seems impossible, but I think that was the main them that Greta was struggling. She finds it hard to cope with the idea that her twin is no longer with her, and when she realised that in the alternate universe she had the chance to be with her twin that is still alive, she makes it her cause to safe her twin and to preserve him in any way possible. At the end of the day, Greta is just like any one of us; in trying to cope with our own pain and sorrow, we would have done anything, even the impossible, just to preserve the one last thing that we feel was worth saving for.

Do the main characters change by the end of the book?

Greta most definitely were more strong-willed than when the book started. I knew that from the very beginning, her sole purpose was to be with her twin, but the idea that she manage to decides to leave her life in 1985 to start a new life in an unknown land such as 1918 with a baby coming (and without a husband) is something that I never thought Greta was willing or able to do. I guess, at the end of the day, you would do anything for your loved ones. The part where Greta said to her twin that she would stay if her twin stayed was a very strong scene. It’s like Greta knew that her twin knew that this Greta who would accept her twin unconditionally is the different Greta than the one he grew up with. I don’t know, that part is such a memorable part for me, I can’t be anymore comprehensible than this, even if I try.

Is the plot engaging—does the story interest you?

The story was not something that interest me, well at least not until both Greta and I got the hang of her travels. But, the plot is definitely engaging and interesting. I’ve never read anything like this before.

Talk about the book’s structure.

The book definitely goes back and forth between 1985, 1941, and 1918. But make no mistake, this is not a past and future kind of story, or a time travelling one; this is a story that goes between alternate universes with different timeline. It won’t be confusing though, because Greta (or the author) is nice enough to give us a prologue each time she enters a new timeline (or new universe). Although I don’t really like stories that goes and back forth, because it could get confusing at times, I did enjoy this book very much. First, the most present time in the book was in 1985 (I was not even born yet), so obviously that was already very interesting for me, to see how life was then. Second, it goes back to 1941 and 1918, which was during the second and first world war, respectively. Although it didn’t dealt much on the war aspect, but the idea to be there and knowing when the first would end and when the second one would start was very interesting for me.

What main ideas—themes—does the author explore? 

This is something that irks me actually. When you picked the book up and looking at the covers (and in some cases if you look up the synopsis), you were lead to believe this was a book about time travelling which, don’t get me wrong, I like. But then, you read the book and you realise that this is not a time travelling book! This is even cooler than that! Greta is going on a travel across alternate universe, another world just like hers with the same Greta and the same people but also at the same time it’s not the same. I hate the fact that the cover is giving out themes that were not actually the main theme of the book. This was about something impossible in the lives of Greta Wells, but it happened anyway to all the Greta in this book.

What passages strike you as insightful, even profound?

I did mention that the part where Greta said to her twin in 1918 that she would stay if he would stay was something that strikes me as a strong scene in the book, but honestly if I were to think about insigthful passages in the book, two passages comes to mind. The first one when Greta asked the reader, “so tell me gentleman, tell me the time and place where it was easy to be a woman.” And when her twin asked this grumpy woman in the beginning of the book, “When you were a little girl, Madam…..was this the woman you dreamed of becoming?” The next time I’m about to do or say something stupid, I’ll remember to ask myself first, is this the woman I dreamed of becoming?

Is the ending satisfying?

Surprisingly, it was. At first, my idea of the perfect ending for Greta was for her to come back to where she belongs and learn that there are things that she cannot change (like the death of her twin) and that she might found something new in her life (possibly Leo in 1985). But then, when Greta made sense of her choice to stay in 1918 because all she ever want was to save and resurrect her twin and she can have that if she stayed in 1918; while the original Greta in 1941 that chose to stay where she belongs also because that is where she is most needed with her own little family, where Greta 1985 had successfully helped her in saving Nathan and her marriage; and 1918 Greta that eventually were left behind in 1985 to find her true love, Leo, that was already passed away in 1918. In the end, all three Gretas had managed to save what they had wanted to save, and although it seemed too good to be true (not to mention too perfect and too convenient for everyone), I was satisfied and happy with it.

If you could ask the author a question, what would you ask?

(1) What is Greta in 1985 do for a living? Did you ever mention about that? Had I missed it?; (2) How does 1918 Greta would survive in 1985? Obviously she doesn’t have the means to make sense of the modern 1985, right?; (3) How would 1985 Greta survives in 1918? I know that being the much more modern Greta and then living in the past, she might have had more advantages compared to 1918 Greta living in 1985, but then again, I’m pretty sure 1918 Greta did not have a job back in 1918, so what does 1985 Greta do, then? Not to mention, she’s having a baby on the way.

Has this novel changed you—broadened your perspective?

I’m not sure about broadening my perspective, I rarely asked myself that question when it comes to reading fiction, but I like to take some parts of the book to ask myself about how I view my life. In this book’s case, it was the question that Greta’s twin asked. When I feel like I’m about to complain about where I am right now, or about to feel depressed about the choices I made, I would like to asked myself is this the kind of woman I had dreamed of becoming? I guess, people need to asked that question themselves, especially when they are about to make important choices in life; reminds you of the simpler you and the innocent you.

Well there you go, another discussion done (with myself obviously!).

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