The Women Are Suffering

By Beth Schwartzapfel ’01 / November/December 2013
October 29th, 2013

BAM The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells is about a woman who wakes up at different points in history. The Confessions of Max Tivoli is about a man who is born old and grows younger. Is this magical realism? Or fantasy? Or science fiction?

Kaliel Roberts
GREER For me, oddly, it is realism—only in the sense that it allows me to tackle a real emotional subject that I otherwise couldn’t. For Max Tivoli, the fact that he ages backwards is not what made me write the book.


BAM So what role did it play?

GREER It was so he could run into the same girl three times. She wouldn’t recognize him, and he would have three chances to get her to fall in love with him. That is a real feeling: what if you got another chance? That’s what drives that book. Obsessive love. This book [Greta Wells] is, well, the book of a middle-aged man thinking of the other ways life could go. It’s a thought experiment. Given this, then what? Given there’s a captain obsessed with a white whale, then what?


BAM What kind of novels influenced your approach?

GREER I loved science fiction as a kid, and I wanted to take some of the stuff I loved from that, and combine it with the characterization and the language I love from literature.


BAM Why science fiction?

GREER In the best science fiction we’re working in the realm of metaphor. We can just barely see ourselves in it. We realize, Oh, we’re probably talking about something else, but I’m too excited by the action to pay attention. And then it really works on you.


BAM So Greta Wells seems to be about time travel, but really it’s about the choices we make and the different lives we could have lived?

GREER And constructing the self.


BAM Is Greta Wells a feminist project?

GREER I tried to write it from a male perspective. I wrote about 100 pages that way. It was not bad. But the problem was, a man’s life—a white man’s life—has not particularly changed in the last 100 years. He wakes up in another world, and he’s married again to the same women. I kept noticing that the women were suffering. He was coming across as a jerk for not noticing they were suffering. I just decided I could write about a person of color, or a Jewish person, or a woman. It had to be someone whose life changed radically. 

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Related Issue
November/December 2013