Only time tells in ‘Confessions’
I read once that, when asked, a seer refused to tell people when they would die, because she believed they would live their lives focused on that date and not on life itself. But what if you knew without a doubt that you would only live to age 70 and not beyond? In “The Confessions of Max Tivoli” by Andrew Sean Greer (c.2004, now in paperback from Picador), Max knows. He’s known all his life.When Max Tivoli was born in September, 1871, the midwife whispered to his parents that it might be better to let him die. Max was a wizened baby with liver-spotted arms and a pronounced nose. He looked like a miniature 70-year-old man.Max’s parents loved him, though. They were well-off enough to hire a tutor and a nurse, and Max thrived. When he was a toddler, a former maid noticed what no one else had seen: Max was getting younger.Through his adolescence, Max grew to be a man, although his appearance said that he was well beyond youth; at age 16, Max looked to be decades older. Exterior aside, Max, at age 16, did what young men do he fell in love.She was 14 years old, her name was Alice Levy, and Max was smitten with her. Unfortunately, Alice saw an older man when she looked at Max. Alice’s mother, though, saw a man her age, and she took Max as her lover. When Max tried to kiss Alice, Mrs. Levy was horrified, and she snatched Alice from Max’s life.Many years later, when Max appeared as old as he was (the balance being achieved), an accidental meeting reunited him with his beloved Alice. Max knew that she could never know his real identity, so he lied and told her that he was someone he was not. When she learned the truth, Alice left Max, but not before he gave her one final gift.Now Max is an aging man in a child’s body. He’s masquerading as an orphan, and he’s been “taken in” by the Widow Ramsey and her son, Sammy. Max knows that soon he will be a helpless infant with an old man’s mind, and it sickens him. He’s decided to end his life before he ages to babyhood. But first, Max pens his story, so he can tell Mrs. Ramsey and Sammy what he could never tell them in person.Does this sound confusing to you? It’s not. Max Tivoli is a wretched and sorrowful man who always tries to live by The Rule that his mother taught him: Always be what they think you are. That’s something Max can’t do, but in trying, he makes mistakes that plague him for the rest of his life. Author Greer has a wonderful, rhapsody-like way of using words, which will draw you into Max’s life and his world.If you’re looking for a novel that’s very different, pick up “The Confessions of Max Tivoli.” It’s an excellent choice for experienced readers of almost any age. VT
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