Critic’s Corner

By Charlotte Bruce Harvey '78 / May / June 2004
June 15th, 2007

“We are each the love of someone’s life,” writes Andrew Sean Greer ’92, in the opening sentence to The Confessions of Max Tivoli (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), a novel that has been greeted with remarkably high praise. Set in late-nineteenth-century San Francisco and written as a memoir, Max Tivoli is the story of a man born old, whose body grows more supple as he ages. Writing in the New Yorker, John Updike called Greer’s novel “enchanting, in the perfumed, dandified style of disenchantment brought to grandeur by Proust and Nabokov.” Lolita comes inescapably to mind. At seventeen, Max (trapped in his fifty-three-year-old man’s body) obsessively ogles his fourteen-year-old tenant, Alice Levy, and tries to convince her he’s not a letch. Max meets Alice again, in his thirties, when age and body actually match, and they marry. But Max’s body betrays him once more, and he entreats his barber to gray his hair. “Like Proust,” Updike continues, “Greer presents life as essentially a solitude, an ever-renewed exile from the present, a shifting set of gorgeous mirages that nothing but descriptive genius can hold fast. Max writes, ‘life is short, and full of sorrows, and I loved it.’ His poignantly awry existence, set out with such a wealth of verbal flourishes and gilded touches, serves as a heightened version of the strangeness, the muted disharmony, of being human.”

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May / June 2004