Tournament of Books 2015

Wednesday, April 7th, 2004


The Confessions of Max Tivoli

by Andrew Sean Greer

Seven Decades Young

A review by Adrienne Miller

Max Tivoli was born in 1871, looking nightmarishly like a miniature seventy-year-old. The narrator of Andrew Sean Greer's enthralling, Lolita-homage novel ages physically backward, from old-age to youth. More significant than Max's "deformity," however, is his love for Alice Levy; it's a doomed, all-consuming, Gatsbyesque love that becomes the prime motivating force of his life. They meet when both are teenagers, neighbors in the same house in San Francisco. Alice, who naturally believes Max is the middle-aged gent he appears to be, is much more interested in Max's faithful friend Hughie. Alice's mother, an ardent, and comically formidable, widow of the Charlotte Haze variety, is, unfortunately for everyone, interested in Max. When the mother learns of Max's romantic designs on her daughter (as ineffectual as they may be), she and Alice promptly move from the house, removing themselves from Max (so they think) forevermore. So begins Max's tragic pursuit of Alice, and all the machinations a lifetime pursuit entails. He reenters Alice's life again and again, unrecognized, appearing younger each time, each time edging closer to the certain, prophesized moment of his death. 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.

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