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The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells: A Novel
by Andrew Sean Greer

Published: 2014-04-15
Paperback : 304 pages
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From the critically acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller The Confessions of Max Tivoli comes The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, a rapturously romantic story of a woman who finds herself transported to the “other lives” she might have lived.

After the death of her beloved ...

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Introduction

From the critically acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller The Confessions of Max Tivoli comes The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, a rapturously romantic story of a woman who finds herself transported to the “other lives” she might have lived.

After the death of her beloved twin brother and the abandonment of her long-time lover, Greta Wells undergoes electroshock therapy. Over the course of the treatment, Greta finds herself repeatedly sent to 1918, 1941, and back to the present. Whisked from the gas-lit streets and horse-drawn carriages of the West Village to a martini-fueled lunch at the Oak Room, in these other worlds, Greta finds her brother alive and well—though fearfully masking his true personality. And her former lover is now her devoted husband…but will he be unfaithful to her in this life as well? Greta Wells is fascinated by her alter egos: in 1941, she is a devoted mother; in 1918, she is a bohemian adulteress.

In this spellbinding novel by Andrew Sean Greer, each reality has its own losses, its own rewards; each extracts a different price. Which life will she choose as she wrestles with the unpredictability of love and the consequences of even her most carefully considered choices?

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, July 2013: Like many books about time travel, including Stephen King’s 11/23/64 and the author’s own The Confessions of Max Tivoli, this achingly lovely novel examines the power of nostalgia and longing and hope. When we first meet Greta Wells, she lives in 1985 Greenwich Village and is mightily depressed by the death of her beloved gay twin brother from an unnamed disease that is clearly AIDS. On the advice of her psychiatrist, she begins shock treatments, which somehow let her travel to her would-have-been life in 1918, and one in 1943. Surrounded by the same people in the garb and custom of the various eras--her dead brother’s lover, a slightly nutty Aunt who made me think of Endora from TV’s Bewitched, and the lover who eventually leaves her in 1985--Greta (and we) come to see that things never really change and that, as they say, Wherever you go, there you are. Deftly and with great heart, Greer shows us that sadness is universal and timeless. But then, so is love. --Sara Nelson

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells Playlist

Andrew Sean Greer

9 Songs that Inspired Andrew Sean Greer

I lived through 1985, but I didn’t live through 1941 or 1918, the other eras of Greta’s life, so I tried to imagine what I would have listened to back then. A mad mix of everything, it turns out—from swing to classical to vaudeville.

1. When Tomorrow Comes by The Eurythmics

1985 was full of pop sounds, but for me I always loved a brokenhearted woman who sang like a robot. Annie Lennox helped me survive adolescence with her lovelorn lyrics and cold cold heart. And yet—so full of hope. If there were a movie of Greta Wells, it would begin with this song about “tomorrow.”

2. Close To Me by The Cure

Almost as good as a robot lady for me was a man falling apart. Being fifteen, putting this into my Walkman, and hearing The Cure breathing into my ear. Shocking. Raw and sad and full of desperate love, just like Greta. Listen to the swinging brass section—echoes of the past.

3. La Vie En Rose by Grace Jones

Grace Jones, the ultimate robot chanteuse. This patient nostalgic remake (she doesn’t sing for two and a half minutes): I picture Greta playing it as she lies in bed and thinks about her life.

4. Chattanooga Choo Choo by The Andrews Sisters

I just had to. 1941. What could better capture the spirit of America on the brink of war? They are really swinging on this one by the two minute mark.

5. Lady in the Dark: The Saga of Jenny by Gertrude Lawrence

It wasn’t all swing swing swing in 1941—there was wit and elegance to the era, including this Kurt Weil number. It pretends to be a moral tale about how a woman should not make up her mind. Of course it really does quite the opposite.

6. Everything Happens to Me by Billie Holiday

Oh Billie. A comical journey through the mishaps of a woman’s life, but Billy Holiday gives it real despair. I imagine this playing in Greta’s kitchen as she smokes a cigarette while the casserole heats in the oven.

7. Darktown Strutter's Ball by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band

1918 had a sense of freedom, and this song (disturbingly titled) shows undeniable joy. Picture young women tapping their feet, unlacing their corsets and getting up to dance! Greta’s Aunt Ruth would have played this hit during one of her notorious parties.

8. Firebird Suite: The Infernal Dance by The Budapest Festival Orchestra

Jazz, ragtime, dixieland—music that many Americans didn’t understand. But classical was quite in vogue. This piece was thoroughly modern, and its drama reminds us of the horrors of 1918: war, famine and plague.

9. You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet by Al Jolson

Subtly risqué vaudeville. Jolsen sang like nobody before—people wept and screamed—and he influenced Crosby, Sinatra, Elvis, and every kid on American Idol who croons a note. What better way to end a soundtrack than with a promise of better to come?

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by Ljwagoner (see profile) 05/08/17

This book is a fascinating read and a little mind bending. The main character, Greta, travels through different time periods as herself following each shock treatment for depression. This i... (read more)

 
by mgrieco (see profile) 04/08/16

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