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The Confessions of Max Tivoli [Audio CD]

Andrew Sean Greer , Brian Keeler
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 2004
Max Tivoli is writing the story of his life. He is nearly seventy years old, but he looks as if he is only seven - for Max is ageing backwards. The tragedy of Max's life was to fall in love at seventeen with Alice, a girl his own age - but to her, Max looks like an unappealingly middle-aged man. However when Max reaches the age of thirty-five, with an appearance to match, he has his second chance at love. But tragedy befalls this star-crossed couple, and desperate measures are required.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*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.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Overachieved, but moving nonetheless! June 4 2007
By Tim
A novel toying with first impressions and perspectives, The Confessions of Max Tivoli is a valiant effort with an astounding, original idea for a love story. It has combined an element of fantasy, as the fictional protagonist is born into this world as an old man who decreases in age as time progresses, into your average love story. Unfortunately, I feel as though the author failed to create a seamless journey for the readers to travel. He draws upon too many emotions and attempts to evoke each and every one of them within the mere 200 pages of the novel. Without the proper length for each of the very individual emotions to develop, Greer doesn't end up finishing off each of them. It is no more a feast for the senses than a taste test at your local supermarket. There are even some scenes that seem to be placed into the novel for the sake of a new emotion (such as the horrific and exageratedly gruesome murder of a bear, adding an element of disgust and horror to the story) as they have little to no part in the overall story. As a package, it is daring and worth the time if you don't mind gut-wrenching heartbreak and the horrifying disturbance that accompanies death, but I would not recommend it to the everyday romantic/love story reader.
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4.0 out of 5 stars MARVELOUS AND COMPELLING July 19 2004
By A Customer
I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area several years ago from Tacoma, and was almost immediately drawn into the very strong literary scene here. This past Saturday, I went to a book festival in the city, mostly to see James Dalessandro, the author of 1906, an extraordianry book about the great earthquake and fire. Seated next to him was Andrew Greer, whose novel, The Confessions of Max Tivoli, had been recommended by several friends. I bought a copy and was so engrossed I spent the rest of the weekend reading and savoring it. I don't know that its perfect, there were a few cliches, but understandable as Greer is very young and has room to grow. But Max Tivoli just stole my heart: a character who is born old, grows young, and constantly has to move and re-enter his own life as a different person. I hate to give any of it away, as the book, small and compact, truly surprised me at every turn. I love San Francisco, and I'm thrilled that we have writers like Amy Tan and James Dalessandro and Andrew Greer, from whom I expect even more and better things. I loved this book: anyone who loves quirky, original ideas and characters with heart and imagniation will love Max Tivoli.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed bag July 15 2004
Greer has a wonderful command of language, a style reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald (the concluding paragraph has the rhythm and feel of the conclusion of Gatsby), and the ability to make bygone eras come to life. Unfortunately, his protagonist/narrator is someone I don't give a damn about. He's simpering, whiny, and ultimately unable to grasp his uniqueness to make the best use of his experience. Maybe that's Greer's point--how human's waste time and opportunities--a worthy theme, but it is trivialized by his exposition of it through Max Tivoli who never becomes more than a self-centered, love sick adolescent. At one point near the very end of the novel, Max observes, "It's a brave and stupid thing, a beautiful thing, to waste one's life for love." Nice sentiment, but I challenge anyone to find bravery in Max Tivoli's life or his obsessive pursuit of love. Further toward the end he adds, "Life is short and full of sorrows, and I loved it." I remain steadfastly unconvinced of Max Tivoli's love of life, mainly because he never really faced life full on or tried to imaginatively create one for himself based on his unique condition. The last quarter of the book was my favorite, not because Max was any less obsessed or simpering, but because there was some humor and genuine pathos in his physical regression towards the womb and in his relationship with Hughie, his lifelong friend.
I would recommend that you read Richard Flanagan's Gould's Book of Fish if you want to experience a real tour de force. It has tricks with time and reality AND a quirky, lusty narrator who really knows what it is to love life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Clever July 9 2004
This is a must read to all who have questioned the feelings associated between the way you should act at a given age, based on society's expectations, and the way your mind truly thinks and behaves during that time in your life. The lead character, Max Tivoli, grows physically younger as he gets older and although this presents an opportunity to experience life in a unique fashion, he feels entrapped within a series of self inflicted lies and social distortions that consumes his soul towards the end of the book. Although you might find a few clichés associated with the narrative, Greer is clever in keeping your attention focused while he moves you and embraces you with Max's inner revelations about his winning and loosing opportunities in life as they come. This is an uplifting and moving read with dashes of dark sarcasm, history and beautifully crafted characters. Hope the book gets the true exposure it deserves (although it was rated Book of the Month in NBC's Today show) so it can be distributed nationwide in soft cover.
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5.0 out of 5 stars My Confessions About Max Tivoli June 30 2004
The Confessions of Max Tivoli, by Andrew Sean Greer, is a book I first heard about one morning on The Today Show. After hearing the intriguing premise of the story, about a man who internally ages like the rest of us while his body does the exact opposite, I just had to read it right away. I had no idea the kind of impact the book would have on me, however.
Max, born an infant-sized old man at birth, and growing bigger, but younger, physically as he ages, is an outsider, a misfit, a freak who finds himself never really fitting in. Encouraged at a young age to be who others perceive him to be, he spends most of his life living a lie. I've never had to live a lie, but I know what it's like to be and feel different, having to accept the realization that this state will never change. Max, despite his flaws, is a good man desperately trying to carve out a good life for himself as he spends most of it pining over his one true love, Alice.
The story takes place in the late 1800's and early 1900s in the city of San Francisco. Greer does a tremendous job of dropping us into this world from page one and weaves a poetic tale of life, love, and loss that somehow manages blend humor, sadness, and enchantment in a way that will make you never want to put the book down once you pick it up. You'll find yourself loving Max, sympathizing for him, even rooting for him when he finally gets the chance to win over his beloved Alice. And yet, despite the overall tale being a sad and tragic one, you'll never find yourself pitying or hating Max for some of the harsh choices he makes along the way. In fact, if you're anything like me, at times you'll find yourself identifying with this character all too well.
And that's truly what great fiction is all about, isn't it?
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Most recent customer reviews
"The Confessions of Max Tivoli" is a wonderfully compelling and novel story written by perhaps the best American writer in a generation. Read more
Published on July 8 2004 by Jeff Segal
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply grand
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 more
Published on June 26 2004 by Randall Neustaedter
5.0 out of 5 stars We Are each the love of someone's life
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 more
Published on June 24 2004 by C. Lee
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, Sophisticated
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 more
Published on June 18 2004 by Michelaneous by Michele
2.0 out of 5 stars Squandered premise = overstated Victorian melodrama
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 more
Published on June 7 2004 by zelphienyc
4.0 out of 5 stars Woolf, Wilde, Kafka--and Oedipus in reverse
Andrew Sean Greer's fantastical allegory recalls, variously, Woolf's "Orlando," Wilde's "Dorian Gray," Kafka's "Metamorphosis," and even Heinlein's... Read more
Published on June 5 2004 by D. Cloyce Smith
2.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting, but BORing!!!
Yes, the writing is exquisite and enchanting, and I really wanted to "like" this book, but it is a TOTALLY BORing story. Read more
Published on June 4 2004 by membruto
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderfully Written, Engaging Book!
My background is mathematics and I bought the book because the premise, a man aging physically in reverse, sounded interesting. Read more
Published on June 3 2004 by Stephen J. Dalrymple
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