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CONFESSIONS OF MAX TIVOLI (original 2004; edition 2005)

by Andrew Sean Greer

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1,402505,404 (3.68)64
Authors:Andrew Sean Greer
Info:Picador (2005), Edition: Export Only Ed, Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer (2004)

  1. 20
    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald (crazybatcow)
    crazybatcow: This short story about Benjamin Button has the same premise as Max Tivoli but the movie rendition of this title, with Brad Pitt, far far outweighs the short story on which it was based.
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Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
This is quite simply a beautifully told, deeply moving story. Max Tivoli is born in 1871, wrinkled, palsied, and blind with the cataracts of a 70-year old man. Max, it seems, is a physical oddity -- his body will age backwards. Warned by his parents never to let anyone know the truth, Max follows "The Rule" most of his life, and considers himself cursed, a "Monster".
The story is told from Max’s point of view, as if writing an autobiographical history to his son Sammy. As the story starts out, Max (58 years old and passing himself off as 12), has managed to insinuate himself into his son’s life in order to be near him. The story of Max’s life mostly revolves around Alice, the love of his life who he unfortunately meets when he is 17 and she is 14. Since he looks like a 53-year old, he can’t pursue her as any other normal boy. Other than his family, the other major relationship in his life is Hughie, who he meets on his first real outing at a park when the boys are both 6 years old. Too young and surprised to see a real boy close up for the first time to censor himself, Max blurts out to Hughie the truth about his age. After questioning him, Hughie believes him and begins a life-long friendship.

The author’s writing is beautifully descriptive, even if it seems melodramatic at times. And some of his similes definitely need work. But these are nitpicks in an otherwise wonderful novel. One small warning -- have a box of Kleenex handy when you begin the book. I’ll admit I cried at several different passages.

I would highly recommend Confessions as a book club selection due to its many layers, themes, and the situations the characters experience.
( )
  dorie.craig | Jun 22, 2017 |
Recommended to me by a friend, this is a good book - but not one that really suited my mood this week. It's a melancholy musing on the futility of love.

The narrator, Max Tivoli, was born appearing to be a wizened old man of 70 - and for his entire life, ages backwards, gaining perspective and experience as physically, he becomes younger.

At 17 (when he appears to be an elderly gentleman), he meets the love of his life, Alice. However, she falls in love with Max's best friend, the young and handsome Hughie. Max has an affair with Alice's mother instead, but the two women move away when the elder notices Max's seemingly perverted attentions to her daughter.

Years later, Max rediscovers Alice and, under an assumed identity, marries her. They are happy for a while, but then she leaves him for another man.

Hughie sticks by Max's side, even as he gets younger and younger.
When Max appears to be only 11, he concocts a scheme to infiltrate Alice's life yet again, this time becoming her adopted son.
However, he drags Hughie into this scheme - not considering the emotional ramifications - that Alice has always loved Hughie, and that Hughie, all these years, has actually loved Max.
No one actually ever gets to have and keep what they truly want.

The language of the book is very flowery - some may find it to be a bit much. Max is a rather self-pitying character - not as loathsome as he makes himself out to be, but not that attractive, either.

[Goodreads has done its job for me! I picked up a copy of this on the free shelf at work, and nearly started reading it again... until this review reminded me that I've already read it. So, update: around 7 years later, I didn't find this book too memorable.] ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
It's just I forgot how much I really liked this book until now :) ( )
  Judy_Ryfinski | Jan 20, 2016 |
It's just I forgot how much I really liked this book until now :) ( )
  Judy_Ryfinski | Jan 20, 2016 |
Max Tivoli is aging backwards. When he was born, he resembled an old man. He knows he will die in 1941, so he is aging backwards from 70 years old. When he is 17 (but looks like a man in his 50s), he falls in love with 14-year old Alice. Of course, he can't do anything about it. He loves Alice for the rest of his life and does meet her again when they are both in their 30s. She doesn't recognize him from when she was 14.

It was ok. It was sometimes hard to follow as Max went back and forth in time from when he was writing to tell the “confessions” of his life, and the dividing line in time wasn't always clear. I certainly didn't agree with many of the things Max did or decisions he made. I did think the end “fit”. ( )
  LibraryCin | Apr 3, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
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. The course of true love, after all, doesn't run smooth -- even for those of us whose biological clocks move forward. So Max turns out to be not so strange a beast after all. He's doomed to improvise his way through life, just like the rest of us, dodging heartbreak and disappointment at every step, forever baffled by the absurd, hopeless ordeal of loving another human being.
added by SimoneA | editNew York Times, Gary Krist (Feb 8, 2004)
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Love..., ever unsatisfied, lives always in the moment that is about to come.--Marcel Proust
For Bill Clegg
First words
We are each the love of someone's life.
We are each the love of someone’s life.
And though I knew the smile faintly forming on her face as she left was not for me, and the sleepless night she would spend was not over my bearded face, still I was there in it somewhere. I was a houseboy of her heart. When we are very young, we try to live on what can never be enough. [78-79]
The past had its back already turned; there was no speaking with it. [82]
We were wed in May 1908 and I knew every inch of ecstasy. [167]
But people do not keep their secrets because they are so clever or discreet; love is never discreet. They keep them because we don't care enough to notice. [196]
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312423810, Paperback)

Out of the womb in 1871, Max Tivoli looked to all the world like a tiny 70-year-old man. But inside the aged body was an infant. Victim of a rare disease, Max grows physically younger as his mind matures. In Andrew Sean Greer's finely crafted novel, The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Max narrates his life story from the vantage point of his late fifties, though his body is that of a 12-year-old boy. He has known since a young age that he is destined to die at 70, and he wears a golden "1941" as a constant reminder of the year he will finally perish in an infant form. His mother, a Carolina belle concerned over her son's troubling appearance, curses Max with "The Rule": "Be what they think you are." Max fails to keep this Rule only a handful of times in his life, but it is the burden of living by it that wounds him and slowly alienates him from the people he loves.

Over Max's narration of the preceding decades of his life, he offers outsider's snapshots of San Francisco and all of America across the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Throughout, Greer uses the literary device of reverse aging to interrogate the evolution of social conventions, the finitude of a human life, and the decay of memory. Max wants love. But his curse destines him to deception. He loses his wife, Alice, changes his name, and remains hidden from his own son to keep his true identity secret. Only his lifelong friend, Hughie, stands by Max and can see the person inside the anachronistic body. Like the best science fiction and myth, the novel uses its central conceit to reveal human prejudice and explode all assumptions of normalcy to profound effect.

Love is a destructive force in The Confessions of Max Tivoli. But Greer recognizes that in the failure of love is also hope. He artfully captures Max's fragile world with a delicacy that never crosses into sentimentality but also avoids the monumental scale of tragedy. As Max says near the end of the novel, "It is a brave and stupid thing, a beautiful thing to waste ones life for love." A journey with Max, while brave and beautiful, is hardly a waste. --Patrick O'Kelley

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:43 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"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. At his birth, Max's father declares him a Nisse, a creature of Danish myth, as his baby son has the external physical appearance of an old, dying creature. Max grows older like any child, but his physical age appears to go backward - on the outside a very old man, but inside still a fearful child." "The story is told in three acts. First, young Max falls in love with a neighbor girl, Alice, who ages as normally as any of us. Max, of course, does not; as a young man, he has an older man's body. But his curse is also his blessing: as he gets older, his body grows younger, so each successive time he finds his Alice, she does not recognize him. She takes him for a stranger, and Max is given another chance at love." "Set against the historical backdrop of San Francisco at the turn of the twentieth century, Max's life and confessions question the very nature of time, of appearance and reality, and of love itself."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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