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With a premise straight out of science fiction (or F. Scott Fitzgerald), Greer's second novel plumbs the agonies of misdirected love and the pleasures of nostalgia with gratifying richness. Max Tivoli has aged backwards: born in San Francisco in 1871 looking like a 70-year-old man, he's now nearly 60 and looks 11. Other than this "deformity," the defining feature of Max's life is his epic love for Alice Levy, whom he meets when they are both teens (though he looks 53). Max's middle-aged gentility endears him to Alice's mother and, like an innocent Humbert Humbert, he allows Mrs. Levy to seduce him so that he might be near his love. When he steals a kiss from Alice, the Levys flee. But heartbroken Max gets another chance: when he encounters Alice years later, she does not recognize him, and he lies shamelessly and repeatedly to be near her again. Max's parents, whose marriage is itself another story of Old San Francisco, have advised him to "be what they think you are," and he usually is. But his lifelong friend Hughie Dempsey knows Max's secret, and is intimately connected to the story that unfolds, via Max's written "confessions," in small, explosive revelations. "We are each the love of someone's life," Max begins; it is the implications of that statement, rather than the details of a backward existence, that the novel illuminates. Greer (The Path of Minor Planets) 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.
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*Starred Review* Max is one of the most unusual people one could ever meet, even in a novel. He ages backward. Mentally and emotionally, he progresses as do other children. Physically, however, he is born quite old and gets younger every year. Should he live long enough naturally, he will become a baby and die. When he is 5, his mother teaches him the most powerful lesson of his life, one that will enable him to coexist successfully with his fellow humans: "Be what they think you are." As a young, but physically elderly, man, Max meets and falls in love with 14-year-old Alice Levy. A relationship is impossible, and they go their separate ways, but Max is smitten for good. Years later, when Alice is in her thirties and Max is near that age, they meet again and, this time, marry. But after many childless years, Alice grows away from him, moves to Pasadena, and launches a successful career as a photographer. They meet again much later. Alice is in her fifties, and Max is a boy. 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. Paula Luedtke
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"The Confessions of Max Tivoli" is a wonderfully compelling and novel story written by perhaps the best American writer in a generation. Read morePublished on July 8 2004 by Jeff Segal
This is an amazing book, which I assume will become a classic of modern literature. Not since Nabokov has an author evoked such persistent, fulfilled and unfulfilled, longing for... Read morePublished on June 26 2004 by Randall Neustaedter
The book is about loss, hope, and above all things, love. The Confessions of Max Tivoli is a heartbreaking confession of a man's love for the love of his life. Read morePublished on June 24 2004 by C. Lee
I can't say I've ever read (or even imagined) a story like this. We begin to picture Max Tivoli as a baby who has the outside appearance of an old man and must use our imaginations... Read morePublished on June 18 2004 by Michelaneous by Michele
Thank god for membruto and Elizabeth O's reviews. Like them, I really wanted to like this book. Greer poses a fantastic premise, prime with potential. Read morePublished on June 7 2004 by zelphienyc
Andrew Sean Greer's fantastical allegory recalls, variously, Woolf's "Orlando," Wilde's "Dorian Gray," Kafka's "Metamorphosis," and even Heinlein's... Read morePublished on June 5 2004 by D. Cloyce Smith
Yes, the writing is exquisite and enchanting, and I really wanted to "like" this book, but it is a TOTALLY BORing story. Read morePublished on June 4 2004 by membruto