Andrew Sean Greer
The Confessions of Max Tivoli

By Daisy Foster

It's 1871, and Max Tivoli enters the world, wrinkled and withered, like any normal baby first blinking their way out of the womb. But max is different. The wrinkles remain and, instead of becoming a sweet-scented baby, he resembles a 70-year-old man. For Max is a victim of a rare disease – one that causes him to age backwards. whilst he has the mind of a baby, he has the body of an old man, and, as he grows older, his body will grow younger. This is the entrancing basis of Andrew Sean Greer's latest novel. It sounds mightily confusing, and is potentially a technical nightmare, but read on. It's mesmerising.

The tale is told by Max, now almost 60 but with the body of a 12-year-old, as he sits in a sandpit in a loud school playground surrounded by 'real' children. He calls his life story a 'confession', tarnished with deceit, murder and love. As a child in the body of an old man, his mother whispered in his young/old ear to 'be what they think you are' – and her 'rule' curses him forever more to act as he appears to the outside world. The 'rule' brings him heartache and confusion, but it also allows him a chance of happiness with Alice, the love of his life, in three different situations – although only one encounter brings a sense of normality to his pitiful existence.

Without wishing to spoil the story, Sean Greer cleverly evokes shades of Lolita and the story of Oedipus, leaving us squirming uncomfortably at Max's disturbing nature. For instance, when, aged 17 but in a 53-year-old's body, Max visibly wilts with hormonal angst over a teenage Alice, we can't help but picture him as a pathetic old pervert. Sean Greer is boldly peeling back the layers of prejudice and societal norms to reveal our deep mistrust of apparently deviant individuals. We are left bewildered as to whether we should pity Max or just loathe him. There are times later on in the story, though, when we only feel anger at Max's selfishness. If he truly loves Alice as deeply as he imagines, why pursue her throughout her life only to cause her pain and confusion?

Amid Max's sorrowful confessions is Sean Greer's glimmering prose, which depicts a San Francisco of days gone by. the chintzy glamour of this faded city positively leaps from the pages with astonishing sparkle and clarity, as colours and sounds dance before your eyes (though the writing can simper and at times feel contrived). You'll want to read on with a feeling of pure indulgence. In the opening sequence of the courtship of Max's mother, for example, Max writes: 'my mother wore the latest paris fashion: a live beetle, iridescently winged, attached to her dress with a golden chain. "I'll kiss you," my father whispered to her, shivering with love – the beetle tugged at it's leash and landed in her hair. Her heart exploded.'

With language drenched with decadent imagery and passion, this is Sean Greer at his best. As he did in his debut, The Path of the Minor Planets, he writes about the tragic sides of the human condition, focusing on our obsessive nature and tendency to self-pity in a hugely compelling and imaginative way. It's a rare thing to discover a story so orginally conceived, and even more so to find one so masterfully executed. But Sean Greer has nurtured the seed of this story beautifully. He has created a poignant and heartrending tale of love, loss and longing.
Contributors retain the copyright to their own contributions. Everything else is copyright © Spannered 2015.
Please do not copy whole articles: instead, copy a bit and link to the rest. Thanks!