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?