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Book Review

Book Review: The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells


I have a difficult time with books that require the reader to suspend disbelief. In fact, I avoid them. But not if the author is Andrew Sean Greer.

His latest book, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, is set in New York City in 1985. The title character is mourning the loss of her twin brother to AIDS, and the loss of her lover, Nathan, to neglect.

To fight her paralyzing depression, she tries electroshock therapy, and the treatment causes unexpected effects. After each of the scheduled sessions, Greta wakes to one of three parallel lives. So, the book also takes place in 1918 and 1941.

In each life, Greta is still Greta. She still lives in New York City and still has the same people in her life, but the lives lived are remarkably different.

In the other two worlds, Greta is actually married to Nathan, and her brother, Felix, is still alive. These lives aren't perfect either, and Greta realizes that she's been given the monkey's paw. She got what she wished for, but it wasn't what she truly wanted. In fact, the other Gretas are also lonely and depressed. And not only do they travel to her world when she is in theirs, but they are also trying to fix her life as she's trying to mend theirs.

Andrew Sean Greer is a talented writer with a fantastic imagination. The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells magically illustrates that sometimes the road not taken can be a just another lonely road.