Thursday, August 8, 2019

The War to End All Wars--and the Next One: The Alice Network and the Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

 I can't always call them coincidences--those occurrences when I find myself encountering similar elements in more than one book I am reading. (For the record, everything I've read recently has mentioned migration patterns of monarch butterflies and the activities of hummingbirds.)

When I started reading Kate Quinn's novel The Alice Network, I was just following up on recommendations from several friends. (Thank you, Mary June!) This novel follows Charlie St. Clair, a flighty American girl who, after coming home from college pregnant, is taken to London by her parents to take care of her "little problem." She has other ideas, though, since her closest cousin has disappeared. She traces her to a crusty anti-social woman with maimed hands who at first   refuses to help her, but then agrees
to pursue leads, driven a handsome, rough-hewn ex-com in her employ.

The story then shifts back and forth between Charlie's search and the back story of Eve Gardiner, who had served as a spy in what was called "The Alice Network" in German-occupied France.

Simultaneously, I had started reading The Impossible Lives of Great Wells by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Andrew Sean Greer. This novel followed a woman who undergoes electro-shock therapy in 1985 after losing her twin brother to AIDS and her lover, who simply leaves her for someone else. As she goes through the series of treatments, she is sent back first to 1918 and next to 1941. While she's the same person, surrounded again by her brother Felix, her lover/husband Nathan, and even her favorite aunt, she sees her live unfold differently each time, set against the back drop of WWI and WWII.

As she moves between lives, she realizes that her other selves are moving into the lives she has left. While I don't like gimmick for gimmick's sake, I enjoyed Greer's take on how one change in our lives can have ripple effects and how changing our time and place can cause changes in us as well.

Both novels--so different from one another--gave me a look at the effect of both great wars both on the front and on the home front.

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