The Confessions of Max Tivoli: Summary and book reviews of The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer, plus links to an excerpt from The Confessions of Max Tivoli and a biography of Andrew Sean Greer.
The Confessions of Max Tivoli
by Andrew Sean Greer
Hardcover: Feb 2004,
Paperback: Feb 2005,
An extraordinarily haunting love story told in the voice of a man who appears to age backwards
We are each the love of someone's life.
So begins The Confessions of Max Tivoli, a heartbreaking love story with a narrator like no other. At his birth, Max's father declares him a "nisse," a creature of Danish myth, as his baby son has the external physical appearance of an old, dying creature. Max grows older like any child, but his physical age appears to go backward--on the outside a very old man, but inside still a fearful child.
The story is told in three acts. First, young Max falls in love with a neighborhood girl, Alice, who ages as normally as any of us. Max, of course, does not; as a young man, he has an older man's body. But his curse is also his blessing: as he gets older, his body grows younger, so each successive time he finds his Alice, she does not recognize him. She takes him for a stranger, and Max is given another chance at love.
Set against the historical backdrop of San Francisco at the turn of the twentieth century, Max's life and confessions question the very nature of time, of appearance and reality, and of love itself. A beautiful and daring feat of the imagination, The Confessions of Max Tivoli reveals the world through the eyes of a "monster," a being who confounds the very certainties by which we live and in doing so embodies in extremis what it means to be human.
The Washington Post - Chris Lehmann
Greer's tale succeeds not by cataloguing the plentiful oddities of Max's condition (which it would be all too easy to imagine had the book been composed by a lesser writer, with an eye to a Forrest Gump-style screenplay treatment). Instead, Greer shapes Max's story into much the same outline of a conventionally forward-moving life -- experience and enthusiasms overlapping in fits and starts, with precious little regard for orderly progress or any maturity beyond the ordinary sadness of the world. Indeed, Max, endlessly sympathetic, observant and articulate though he is, does not emerge by any means as a blameless hero in his life story. By virtue of his ruthless uprooting of his identity and past in his continuous epic pursuit of Alice, he does bitter violence to those who care completely for the person he actually is.
The New York Times - Gary Krist
The course of true love, after all, doesn't run smooth -- even for those of us whose biological clocks move forward. So Max turns out to be not so strange a beast after all. He's doomed to improvise his way through life, just like the rest of us, dodging heartbreak and disappointment at every step, forever baffled by the absurd, hopeless ordeal of loving another human being.
The New Yorker - John Updike The Confessions of Max Tivoli is enchanting, in the perfumed, dandified style of disenchantment brought to grandeur by Proust and Nabokov . . . Like Proust, Greer presents life as essentially a solitude, an ever-renewed exile from the present, a shifting set of gorgeous mirages that nothing but descriptive genius can hold fast.
Booklist - Paula Luedtke
Starred Review. Max's narrative, that of a man living in reverse and, perforce, rather alongside of his time than in it, becomes a deeply poignant and mature commentary on life that strums the heartstrings again and again. It's positively captivating.
Starred Review. Greer writes marvelously nuanced prose; with its turn-of-the-century lilt and poetic flashes, it is the perfect medium for this weird, mesmerizing and heartbreaking tale.
Library Journal - Marc Kloszewski
There's a good deal of pathos to be wrung from this story of hopelessly elusive love, but Greer never pushes the natural sentiment of the story over the edge into treacle. He thus transforms an idea that could very easily have been a mere novelty into something surprisingly and genuinely affecting. Highly recommended.
...the delights are many, among them gossamer prose, vivid characterization, and historic snapshots of a fabulous American city. Old-fashioned narrative fun in a literary hall of mirrors.
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