Andrew Sean Greer’s The Confessions of Max Tivoli

I knew that The Confessions of Max Tivoli was one of my favorite books of last year when I started to give copies of it away to friends. At a cover price of $23, it was getting to be an expensive habit. But now that it’s out in paperback, I may be able to indulge in compulsive gifting once again.

The novel tells the story of Max Tivoli, born with the physical attributes of an old man–wrinkled skin, bald head, and liver spots. As he ages, he grows more youthful in appearance, so that, at the age of fourteen, he appears to be a man in his fifties; in his thirties, his physical and inner age coincide, however briefly; and then, in his fifties, he looks like a teenager, with pimples and a changing voice.

Max’s condition forces him into a lonely, difficult existence, made bearable only by the friendship of his tutor’s son, Hughie, and by the love he feels for young Alice, whom he meets as a teenager. But Max’s appearance makes it impossible for him to pursue Alice, to whom he appears as a drooling Humbert. Still, when their paths cross again, years later, Max looks closer to his real age, and now he can dare to have hope that Alice might notice him. “We are each the love of someone’s life,” he says early on in his journal, and this truth is given its full share of exploration in the novel.

The Confessions of Max Tivoli is a book like no other–a mix of sci-fi, love story, and classic tragedy, but it’s done so brilliantly that I simply couldn’t put it down. And it has such beautiful prose that I found myself re-reading sentences and underlining entire paragraphs. I recommend it unreservedly.