The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer

First ImpressionsThe Impossible Lives of Greta Wells book cover
I love, love, LOVE to read a book’s first line.   Some authors underestimate the power and importance of this first passage, but not Andrew Sean Greer.  My favorite first line of all time is from his 2004 title The Confessions of Max Tivoli:  “We are each the love of someone’s life.”  Swoon!  That line pulled me, and has obviously stayed with me, nearly 10 years later.  Of course, when I saw The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells on the table of possible books to read and review for this blog, I immediately grabbed it and flipped to the first line.  Greer did not disappoint! (I will share later.)

Drive-by Summary
31-year-old Greta Wells is enjoying 1985: she has a loving boyfriend and twin brother for a best friend.  And then, one day, she doesn’t.  Following her brother’s haunting death and her boyfriend’s betrayal, she spirals deep into sadness and darkness.  Her doctor’s solution:  Electroconvulsive Therapy.  However, this set of shock procedures do more for Greta than she thought possible:  it transports and cycles her through two alternate lives: one in 1918 and 1941, in addition to her 1985 reality.  Her friends and loved ones are all present in each life – how could that be?  Can she change her destiny and her loved ones’ destinies in her alternate lives?  Does she dare attempt to?

My Favorite Character
I really enjoyed 1918 Greta.  This sounds strange as they are all Greta, but not really.  (You’ll have to read the book to understand this).  1918 Greta is a woman who, rather than being a victim, understands that she alone is responsible for her happiness, and goes to great lengths to find, and keep, happiness and love.

Words to Live By
I have two favorites:

1. “The impossible happens once to each of us.”  (The novel’s first line!  Great, right?)

2. “When you were a little girl, madam,” he said, gesturing to her, “was this the woman you dreamed of becoming?”  (Such a snarky, yet glaringly wonderful question!)

Recommended For
I loved how clever this book was.  Recommended for readers who enjoy a good, “what if?” story that begs for some reflection and consideration.  The character development is great and the writing is beautiful; lines just need to be re-read and savored.  While there is time travel involved, it is more realistic and/or historical in nature than “sci-fi.”  Think more along the lines of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Final Say
I think we’ve all from time to time wondered if we couldn’t just up and plop ourselves into another life at another time.  I know I have!  What if we could actually land in our own lives, with our own friends and family, at another era in history and in different circumstances?  Would our fates be the same?  Overall, I found this book quite an enjoyable read.  I would give it four out of a possible five Electroconvulsive Therapy shocks.

You can find The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells in this life time at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Bethany

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