Even though I usually read multiple books at one time, I try to limit myself to one per genre. Not so earlier this month when I was reading both Writers and Lovers, by Lily King, and The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer.
Both were about young women who were struggling on multiple fronts--dealing with loss, betrayal, ambition, family drama, depression, and self worth. Okay, so that fits virtually every piece of modern fiction, but still I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't be able to keep the two story lines straight.
Turns out, it wasn't that big a problem because Greta bounces between three parallel universes (a rather inventive form of time travel), and Casey (the protagonist of Writers and Lovers) was just so darn compelling.
I ended up really loving Writers and Lovers despite its rather dull title. While Casey struggled with the usual set of issues, and writing about writing is always a bit of a gamble, King made Casey so interesting and lovable that it didn't matter. It's not that I could relate to her, but I sympathized with her, admired her grit, and loved how her inner goodness was able to shine despite the junk she had to deal with. I especially loved her interaction with the two little boys, sons of one of her beaus, which showed her to be such a lovely person at her core.
I had a few issues with the Greta Wells novel and ended up only giving it 3 GoodReads stars. It wasn't the parallel universe thing--I love time travel and willingly suspend my disbelief on a regular basis--it was more that I didn't really like Greta very much and I never really got a good handle on the rest of the characters--her twin brother, his lover, their aunt, her lover/husband (depending on which world Greta was in)--while they were all described in detail, they never became real for me, hence I ended up not really caring that much about what happened to them.
It's interesting to contrast the two novels and my ho-hum reaction to one versus my wholehearted embrace of the other. I think it ultimately comes down to writing. It's not enough to have a good story, the author has to be able to show the depth of the main character and that means authentic dialogue and authentic action-reaction. I felt like Greer wanted to make a point about what it meant to be gay in America in the 20th century, whereas King just wanted to tell Casey's story.
Both novels were set in the not too distant past. Writers and Lovers is set in the 1990s, and The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells is set (initially and off and on) in the 1980s, during the height of the AIDs epidemic. Does that make these actually historical fiction? It's a bit weird to think about, but I think so. While reading the Greta Wells novel, I did find myself looking up dates related to when AIDs became known and remembering the scariness of those times. I don't discount the point Greer was making, I just wish I liked his novel better.