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The Confessions of Max Tivoli    by Andrew Sean Greer order for
Confessions of Max Tivoli
by Andrew Sean Greer
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton

The protagonist of The Confessions of Max Tivoli is an unusual person with a strange medical condition. He is born with the body of an elderly man and physically ages backwards, while he moves mentally forward. The book is narrated by Max, who is writing his memoirs before he dies, now in the body of a twelve-year-old and living with a woman and her son Sammy. He tells his story in the present, but goes back in time to explain how he got to where he is now. Flashbacks include how his parents met, the day of his conception, as well as key moments, such as meeting his best friend Hughie, who plays a significant role in Max's life.

Max, born in San Francisco in September 1871, details his tragic life with humor. He shares memories of trips ,such as to the Woodward Gardens, where he and Hughie enjoy watching the various animals on display. He details his love for his beloved Grandmother, who gives him a medallion with the year 1941 engraved, which she believes will be the year of his death. And his tells of his only love, Alice, whom he encounters three times, each in the guise of a different person. Alice does not connect the three versions of Max, who tries to heed his parents' advice: 'Be what they think you are'. He does his best to live by this rule, but breaks it with Alice, a mistake he believes he cannot take back. For the most part, Max is never the age he looks, and has to live a life of deception in order to survive. As a young man, he cannot experience real love because the women he wants think he's an old man. As an older man, he looks far too young to drive, or smoke, or drink liquor. But through it all, he has Hughie, his only true friend, who knows what Max really is.

This story of love, friendship, and loyalty spans over fifty years, telling how Max Tivoli lived his entire life pretending to be something he was not. I recommend The Confessions of Max Tivoli for wonderfully written prose and the beauty of the story of Max's life. While he may call himself a monster, Max is simply human. He feels and loves like anyone else, but only more so, because what he wants is almost always out of reach. In addition to a picturesque look into the early days of California history, the novel portrays the strength of love and friendship, especially when not reciprocated. I would not be surprised to see this book become a modern classic.

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