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The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 25, 2013
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The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells Playlist
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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Top Customer Reviews
This fascinating and thought-provoking novel starts off in the year 1985 when we meet the main cast of characters. The first is Greta Wells, who narrates the story. She and her brother Felix have just turned 31 years old but it is not a happy time for her - Felix is dying from AIDS and his partner Alan has come down with the disease as well. We also meet Greta's eccentric (and wonderful) Aunt Ruth, who lives in the same building as Greta and we meet Nathan, Greta's live-in partner of 10 years.
When Felix dies near the start of the story and when her relationship with Nathan sours, Greta goes into a deep depression. Medication does not seem to help and her doctor recommends another type of treatment.
In a way that is explained later in the story, Greta is transported back to two different time periods - October of 1918 and October of 1941. Both are pivotal times in history; a war is just ending and another is about to begin. In other ways the three time periods seem to mirror each other; there is the Spanish flu in 1918 comparable to the AIDS epidemic of 1985. As Greta goes back and forth in time and body, she tries to "correct" and improve her own situation and the lives of those that are near and dear to her. But her efforts have surprising and incredibly profound and intriguing consequences.
I don't want to give away more than what I've just said because there are certain revelations and discoveries that Greta makes when she is transported in time and I think it would benefit the reader (as it did me) to not know in advance what those are.
I started reading this novel earlier tonight and I just finished it a few minutes ago. I could not put it down.Read more ›
Greer is trying to paint a picture of three times in history where many people are dying from a plague (Spanish Flu/AIDS) or from war, and to show how each character is influenced and changed by the time in which he or she resides. By moving the 1985 Greta around in time, he intends to illuminate us on the nature of love and on the social and cultural restrictions on women.
I'm giving this novel a solid 3-stars (didn't love it/didn't hate it), because although I found it derivative, and difficult to follow at times, I read it on a long plane flight and it was entertaining enough to distract me from the myriad discomforts that make up modern air travel.
I felt that Kate Atkinson, in her latest novel, "Life After Life", did a better job with the many-worlds interpretation because her protagonist's birth was the "tree" that branched out as the seminal occurrence from which all the branches/possible lives grew. Other wonderful "time travel" or "many-world" novels are: "Replay" by Ken Grimwood, and "11/22/63" by Stephen King.
So it is with some surprise that I find myself feeling compelled to write a negative review of The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, a book that at the moment appears to be nearly universally appreciated. I finished the book several days ago, and the ways in which it troubled me continue to nag. It's not just that I didn't care for the book -- although that's part of it -- but I found it unsettling in a way that goes beyond simply not enjoying a novel. So, here goes:
In 1985, Greta Wells is suffering. Her beloved twin brother has just died, one of many young men lost in the early years of the plague known as AIDS, and her under-appreciated lover leaves her. She briefly tries therapy, but is somewhat inexplicably, and very quickly, shunted off to a practitioner of Electroconvulsive Therapy (a treatment even this novel acknowledges is used only as a kind of last resort, but let's not let the difference between grieving after devastating loss and major depression get in the way of the plot's catalyst). This is not just any ECT: it's a time travel-inducing shock treatment, and it just so happens that in two other branches of the multiverse, two other Gretas are also receiving their own treatments, as well, freeing them up to play musical chairs in time. So far, so good.
My problem is not with the conceit of this novel.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I found this book pretty confusing at times, rambling, and drawn out.Published 17 days ago by Kristen Elliott
I adored this book. I had never heard of Greer before (sorry, if you're reading this...don't read reviews ;-) ) but happened to be in a popular bookstore in downtown Portland,... Read morePublished 27 days ago by Jenna Gareis
interesting novel. was not sure what to expect. time travel and electro convulsive therapy: hmmm, an interesting combo.Published 1 month ago by Bruce C. Miller
A very interesting concept of space and time and how a person would need to adjust to adapt to different time periods.Published 1 month ago by Alice Babcock
Quite simply one of the most profoundly moving books I have ever read. As with "The Confessions of Max Tivoli," Greer takes what would seem a fantastical tale and renders... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
It's 1985. The main character, Greta, suffers with depression that medications don't seem to be helping, so she agrees to electro-shock treatments. Read morePublished 2 months ago by rainforestnw
Interesting interpretation of time travel. While some parts were a little hard to follow, it was quite entertaining throughout. Good read.Published 2 months ago by ship