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The Moment Stealer

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells - Andrew Sean Greer The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells is beauty and quiet sadness put to words of fancy and wonder.

It is the story of Greta Wells, whose life has become unbearable and heavy with loss. She submits to electroshock therapy (or electroconvulsive therapy, as the book calls it, but I don't see how that is any better), and finds herself plunged into two other parallel worlds set in different time periods. In each world, Greta's situation is different -- in one, she is waiting for her husband to come home from war and falling in love with an actor. In another, she is a mother whose loving husband holds a horrible secret. In her real life, she is all alone, abandoned by her brother through death and her lover through the withering of love.

There's this one paragraph that really struck me -- Greer talks about the impossibility of being a woman, how woman cannot live without having their lives decided for them among three roles: a shrew, a wife, or a whore. It's more beautifully phrased in the book itself, of course, but I found it incredibly striking in its painful truth. Hard to believe a man wrote such poignant words on woman's suffering. It's interesting how Greta's three lives mirror these three predetermined roles in society, and how only in one does she manage to break free.

When the book ends, you feel it. It could have been turned into a brilliant happily ever after, where all the three Gretas receive fairy tale endings and you shut the book with a happy little sigh. It doesn't. The way it ends is really the only way it could have ended, and when you turn the final page, you shut the book to have a moment of deep and contemplative silence.