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The Confessions of Max Tivoli


The Confessions of Max Tivoli Cover

ISBN13: 9780312423810
ISBN10: 0312423810
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APRIL 25, 1930

We are each the love of someone's life.

I wanted to put that down in case I am discovered and unable to complete these pages, in case you become so disturbed by the facts of my confession that you throw it into the fire before I get to tell you of great love and murder. I would not blame you. So many things stand in the way of anyone ever hearing my story. There is a dead body to explain. A woman three times loved. A friend betrayed. And a boy long sought for. So I will get to the end first and tell you we are each the love of someone's life.

I sit here on a lovely April day. It keeps changing all around me; the sun alternates between throwing deep shadows behind the children and trees and then sweeping them back up again the moment a cloud crosses the sky. The grass fills with gold, then falls to nothing. The whole school yard is being inked with sun and blotted, glowing and reaching a point of great beauty, and I am breathless to be in the audience. No one else notices. The little girls sit in a circle, dresses crackling with starch and conspiracy, and the boys are on the baseball field or in the trees, hanging upside down. Above, an airplane astounds me with its roar and school-marm line of chalk. An airplane; it's not the sky I once knew.

And I sit in a sandbox, a man of almost sixty. The chill air has made the sand a bit too tough for the smaller kids to dig; besides, the field's changing sunlight is too tempting, so everyone else is out there charging at shadows, and I'm left to myself.

We begin with apologies:

For the soft notebook pages you hold in your hands, a sad reliquary for my story and apt to rip, but the best I could steal. For stealing, both the notebooks and the beautiful lever-fed pen I'm writing with, which I have admired for so many months on my teacher's desk and simply had to take. For the sand stuck between the pages, something I could not avoid. There are more serious sins, of course, a lost family, a betrayal, and all the lies that have brought me to this sandbox, but I ask you to forgive me one last thing: my childish handwriting.

We all hate what we become. I'm not the only one; I have seen women staring at themselves in restaurant mirrors while their husbands are away, women under their own spell as they see someone they do not recognize. I have seen men back from war, squinting at themselves in shopwindows as they feel their skull beneath their skin. They thought they would shed the worst of youth and gain the best of age, but time drifted over them, sand-burying their old hopes. Mine is a very different story, but it all turns out the same.

One of the reasons I sit here in the sand, hating what I've become, is the boy. Such a long time, such a long search, lying to clerks and parish priests to get the names of children living in the town and suburbs, making up ridiculous aliases, then crying in a motel room and wondering if I would ever find you. You were so well hidden. The way the young prince in fairy tales is hidden from the ogre: in a trunk, in a thorny grove, in a dull place of meager enchantment. Little hidden Sammy. But the ogre always finds the child, doesn't he? For here you are.

If you are reading this, dear Sammy, don't despise me. I am a poor old man; I never meant you any harm. Don't remember me just as a childhood demon, though I have been that. I have lain in your room at night and heard your breathing roughen the air. I have whispered in your ear when you were dreaming. I am what my father always said I was--I am a freak, a monster--and even as I write this (forgive me) I am watching you.

You are the one playing baseball with your friends as the sunlight comes and goes through your golden hair. The sunburned one, clearly the boss, the one the other boys resent but love; it's good to see how much they love you. You are up to bat but hold out your hand because something has annoyed you; an itch, perhaps, as just now your hand scratches wildly at the base of your blond skull, and after this sudden dervish, you shout and return to the game. Boys, you don't mean to be wonders, but you are.

You haven't noticed me. Why would you? To you I am just the friend in the sandbox, scribbling away. Let's try an experiment: I'll wave my hand to you. There, see, you just put down your bat to wave back at me, a smile cocked across your freckled face, arrogant but innocent of everything around you. All the years and trouble it took for me to be here. You know nothing, fear nothing. When you look at me, you see another little boy like you.

A boy, yes, that's me. I have so much to explain, but first you must believe:

Inside this wretched body, I grow old. But outside--in every part of me but my mind and soul--I grow young.

There is no name for what I am. Doctors do not understand me; my very cells wriggle the wrong way in the slides, divide and echo back their ignorance. But I think of myself as having an ancient curse. The one that Hamlet put upon Polonius before he punctured the old man like a balloon:

That, like a crab, I go backwards.

For even now as I write, I look to be a boy of twelve. At nearly sixty, there is sand in my knickers and mud across the brim of my cap. I have a smile like the core of an apple. Yet once I seemed a handsome man of twenty-two with a gun and a gas mask. And before that, a man in his thirties, trying to find his lover in an earthquake. And a hardworking forty, and a terrified fifty, and older and older as we approach my birth.

"Anyone can grow old," my father always said through the bouquet of his cigar smoke. But I burst into the world as if from the other end of life, and the days since then have been ones of physical reversion, of erasing the wrinkles around my eyes, darkening the white and then the gray in my hair, bringing younger muscle to my arms and dew to my skin, growing tall and then shrinking into the hairless, harmless boy who scrawls this pale confession.

A mooncalf, a changeling; a thing so out of joint with the human race that I have stood in the street and hated every man in love, every widow in her long weeds, every child dragged along by a loving dog. Drunk on gin, I have sworn and spat at passing strangers who took me for the opposite of what I was inside--an adult when I was a child, a boy now that I am an old man. I have learned compassion since then, and pity passersby a little, as I, more than anyone, know what they have yet to live through.

Copyright © 2004 by Andrew Sean Greer

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exjerseygirl, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by exjerseygirl)
When I saw the trailer for"Benjamin Button", I thought more than a little of the plot was lifted from this book. A poetic, beautifully written story about a man who ages backward from old age to youth and loves and loses the same woman, again and again. As a child, he meets and falls in love with the young girl he will love the rest of his life, meeting her two more times over the years, only once when they seem to be close in age and can be together. A sad meditation on love and friendship that will stay with you.
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marypoint, June 23, 2009 (view all comments by marypoint)
Intriguing - great flow - love the language choice
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Product Details

Greer, Andrew Sean
Picador USA
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
February 1, 2005
Grade Level:
8.29 x 5.44 x 0.81 in

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Science Fiction and Fantasy » Fantasy » General
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

The Confessions of Max Tivoli Used Trade Paper
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$16.00 In Stock
Product details 288 pages Picador USA - English 9780312423810 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

In this novel a boy is born with the physical features of a seventy-year-old man and is doomed to spend his life aging mentally while his body marches backwards and becomes younger and younger. The emotional honesty transcends the implausible plot line and creates a beautiful story about what it is to be human — an amazing, memorable read.

"Review A Day" by , "The secret to Greer's success in Max Tivoli is his delightfully overwrought voice, his willingness to luxuriate in Victorian conceits of self-pity, love, and confession. For a modern author, it requires balancing on the razor's edge between parody and profundity, and Greer sways precariously between the two in a way that makes it impossible to take your eyes off him." (read the entire Christian Science Monitor Review)
"Review A Day" by , "The Confessions of Max Tivoli is a mediation on the body as a stranger, as a betrayer: 'I was never going to be safe in my body again; I would be stumbling until I died. I was becoming a child.' This devastating, heartbreaking novel, written in the lush, velvet-tongued voice of the damned, is an astonishment." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "[T]he 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."
"Review" by , "Resplendently poetic and loftily sorrowing....Enchanting, in the perfumed, dandified style of disenchantment brought to grandeur by Proust and Nabokov."
"Review" by , "Max's narrative...becomes a deeply poignant and mature commentary on life that strums the heartstrings again and again. It's positively captivating."
"Review" by , "[A] serious work of literature, written with a precision of language and a depth of feeling that doesn't simply belie the book's quirky premise, it transforms it, elevates it from what could have been just another clever idea to a profound meditation on life, love and the inevitability of growing old....[Greer's near-flawless prose] often reads like poetry; the cadence and imagery create feelings more than simply describe them....Max Tivoli is entertaining and engaging enough to rival any fun, lighthearted fantasy paperback, while also so poetic, and so powerful, that it should please the most particular literary critic."
"Review" by , "Max may be a monster, but he is a profoundly human one, a creature whose unusual disorder, far from making him a freak to be wondered at, simply magnifies his normal and recognizable emotions, sharpening their poignancy."
"Review" by , "[S]tellar....[A] novel whose structure resembles one of those earthquake-sound buildings, the kind with just enough play between the pillars to sway instead of cracking."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "With its evocative turn-of-the-century San Francisco setting, The Confessions of Max Tivoli is a strikingly original and beautifully told story that offers a fresh perspective on questions of love and age."
"Synopsis" by , A beautiful and daring feat of the imagination, The Confessions of Max Tivoli reveals the world through the eyes of "monster," a being who confounds the very certainties by which people live and in doing so embodies in extremis what it means to be human.
"Synopsis" by , "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.

Born with the physical appearance of an elderly man, Max grows older mentally like any child, but his body appears to age backwards, growing younger every year. And yet, his physical curse proves to be a blessing, allowing him to try to win the heart of the same woman three times as at each successive encounter she fails to recognize him, taking him for a stranger, so giving Max another chance at love.

Set against the historical backdrop of San Francisco at the turn of the twentieth century," The Confessions of Max Tivoli "is a beautiful and daring feat of the imagination, questioning the very nature of love, time, and what it means to be human.


"Enchanting"--John Updike, "The New Yorker"

"Devastating, astonishment."--"Esquire "


"Quietly dazzling...keenly affecting."--"The New York Times Book Review"

"This year's break-out novel."--"Entertainment Weekly "

"A devastating new writer"-Michael Cunningham

"A fable of surpassing gravity and beauty."--"San Francisco Chronicle "

"One of the most talented writers around."--Michael Chabon

"Elegant and graceful."--"Miami Herald "

"Brilliantly conceived."--"Los Angeles Times"

"A breath-taking love story...a profound meditation on life."--" "

"A writer of great daring and originality."--Peter Carey

"It leaves its readers ...both younger and wiser."--"Washington Post"

"What's most impressive about Greer's work is the emotional intensity...and the deep beauty ofhis prose"--"The Atlanta Journal Constitution "

"This is the kind of book that makes you laugh out loud, write notes in the margins and shed tears onto its pages."--Neil LaBute

"Surprisingly and genuinely affecting."--"Library Journal "

"Strikingly original and beautifully told."--"Bookpage "

"Weird and wonderful...Ýa¨ deft new modern master."--" "

"ÝIt¨ strums the heartstrings again and again...positively captivating."--"Booklist"

"Mesmerizing and heartbreaking."--"Publishers Weekly"

"The delights are many....old-fashioned narrative fun in a literary hall of mirrors."

--"Kirkus Review "

"A mythic, Proustian romance...a brilliant story."--"The Times" (London)

Andrew Sean Greer is the author of the story collection "How It Was for M"e (Picador) and most recently a novel, "The Path of Minor Planets" (Picador). He lives in San Francisco.

"Synopsis" by ,
"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.

Born with the physical appearance of an elderly man, Max grows older mentally like any child, but his body appears to age backwards, growing younger every year. And yet, his physical curse proves to be a blessing, allowing him to try to win the heart of the same woman three times as at each successive encounter she fails to recognize him, taking him for a stranger, so giving Max another chance at love.

Set against the historical backdrop of San Francisco at the turn of the twentieth century, The Confessions of Max Tivoli is a beautiful and daring feat of the imagination, questioning the very nature of love, time, and what it means to be human.

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