The Confessions of Max Tivoli

The Confessions of Max Tivoli

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From critically acclaimed, award-winning author Andrew Sean Greer comes a story like no other. Max Tivoli is uniquely cursed. His mind ages normally, but he is born with the withered body of a 70-year-old man-and his body ages in reverse. Despite this torment, Max manages three times to cross paths with Alice, the woman who captures his heart. Because he appears to be a different person each time they meet, Max has three chances for true love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402573682
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 02/01/2004
Edition description: Unabridged, 8 CDs, 9 hrs. 15 min.
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 5.70(h) x 1.25(d)

About the Author

Andrew Sean Greer is the bestselling author of five works of fiction, including The Confessions of Max Tivoli, which was named a Best Book of the Year by both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune. He is the recipient of the Northern California Book Award, the California Book Award, the New York Public Library Young Lions Award, the O Henry Award for Short Fiction, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Public Library. Greer lives in San Francisco.


San Francisco, California

Date of Birth:

November 21, 1970

Place of Birth:

Washington, D.C.


B.A. in English, Brown University, 1992; M.F.A . in Fiction, University of Montana, 1996

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer. Copyright © 2004 by Andrew Sean Greer. To be published in February, 2004 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.


APRIL 25, 1930

We are each the love of someone's life.

I wanted to put that down in case I am discovered and unable to complete these pages, in case you become so disturbed by the facts of my confession that you throw it into the fire before I get to tell you of great love and murder. I would not blame you. So many things stand in the way of anyone ever hearing my story. There is a dead body to explain. A woman three times loved. A friend betrayed. And a boy long sought for. So I will get to the end first and tell you we are each the love of someone's life.

I sit here on a lovely April day. It keeps changing all around me; the sun alternates between throwing deep shadows behind the children and trees and then sweeping them back up again the moment a cloud crosses the sky. The grass fills with gold, then falls to nothing. The whole school yard is being inked with sun and blotted, glowing and reaching a point of great beauty, and I am breathless to be in the audience. No one else notices. The little girls sit in a circle, dresses crackling with starch and conspiracy, and the boys are on the baseball field or in the trees, hanging upside down. Above, an airplane astounds me with its roar and school-marm line of chalk. An airplane; it's not the sky I once knew.

And I sit in a sandbox, a man of almost sixty. The chill air has made the sand a bit too tough for the smaller kids to dig; besides, the field's changing sunlight is too tempting, so everyone else is out there charging at shadows, and I'm left to myself.

We begin with apologies:

For the soft notebook pages you hold in your hands, a sad reliquary for my story and apt to 0 rip, but the best I could steal. For stealing, both the notebooks and the beautiful lever-fed pen I'm writing with, which I have admired for so many months on my teacher's desk and simply had to take. For the sand stuck between the pages, something I could not avoid. There are more serious sins, of course, a lost family, a betrayal, and all the lies that have brought me to this sandbox, but I ask you to forgive me one last thing: my childish handwriting.

We all hate what we become. I'm not the only one; I have seen women staring at themselves in restaurant mirrors while their husbands are away, women under their own spell as they see someone they do not recognize. I have seen men back from war, squinting at themselves in shopwindows as they feel their skull beneath their skin. They thought they would shed the worst of youth and gain the best of age, but time drifted over them, sand-burying their old hopes. Mine is a very different story, but it all turns out the same.

One of the reasons I sit here in the sand, hating what I've become, is the boy. Such a long time, such a long search, lying to clerks and parish priests to get the names of children living in the town and suburbs, making up ridiculous aliases, then crying in a motel room and wondering if I would ever find you. You were so well hidden. The way the young prince in fairy tales is hidden from the ogre: in a trunk, in a thorny grove, in a dull place of meager enchantment. Little hidden Sammy. But the ogre always finds the child, doesn't he? For here you are.

If you are reading this, dear Sammy, don't despise me. I am a poor old man; I never meant you any harm. Don't remember me just as a childhood demon, though I have been that. I have lain in your room at night and heard your breathing roughen the air. I have whispered in your ear when you were dreaming. I am what my father always said I was—I am a freak, a monster—and even as I write this (forgive me) I am watching you.

You are the one playing baseball with your friends as the sunlight comes and goes through your golden hair. The sunburned one, clearly the boss, the one the other boys resent but love; it's good to see how much they love you. You are up to bat but hold out your hand because something has annoyed you; an itch, perhaps, as just now your hand scratches wildly at the base of your blond skull, and after this sudden dervish, you shout and return to the game. Boys, you don't mean to be wonders, but you are.

You haven't noticed me. Why would you? To you I am just the friend in the sandbox, scribbling away. Let's try an experiment: I'll wave my hand to you. There, see, you just put down your bat to wave back at me, a smile cocked across your freckled face, arrogant but innocent of everything around you. All the years and trouble it took for me to be here. You know nothing, fear nothing. When you look at me, you see another little boy like you.

A boy, yes, that's me. I have so much to explain, but first you must believe:

Inside this wretched body, I grow old. But outside—in every part of me but my mind and soul—I grow young.

There is no name for what I am. Doctors do not understand me; my very cells wriggle the wrong way in the slides, divide and echo back their ignorance. But I think of myself as having an ancient curse. The one that Hamlet put upon Polonius before he punctured the old man like a balloon:

That, like a crab, I go backwards.

For even now as I write, I look to be a boy of twelve. At nearly sixty, there is sand in my knickers and mud across the brim of my cap. I have a smile like the core of an apple. Yet once I seemed a handsome man of twenty-two with a gun and a gas mask. And before that, a man in his thirties, trying to find his lover in an earthquake. And a hardworking forty, and a terrified fifty, and older and older as we approach my birth.

"Anyone can grow old," my father always said through the bouquet of his cigar smoke. But I burst into the world as if from the other end of life, and the days since then have been ones of physical reversion, of erasing the wrinkles around my eyes, darkening the white and then the gray in my hair, bringing younger muscle to my arms and dew to my skin, growing tall and then shrinking into the hairless, harmless boy who scrawls this pale confession.

A mooncalf, a changeling; a thing so out of joint with the human race that I have stood in the street and hated every man in love, every widow in her long weeds, every child dragged along by a loving dog. Drunk on gin, I have sworn and spat at passing strangers who took me for the opposite of what I was inside—an adult when I was a child, a boy now that I am an old man. I have learned compassion since then, and pity passersby a little, as I, more than anyone, know what they have yet to live through.

Reading Group Guide

1. What did the novel's epigraph and opening sentence mean to you when you began the book, and what do they mean to you now? Are they romantic notions, statements on the hopelessness of love, or perhaps something in between?
2. When you began this book, did you consider growing younger to be only positive? Do you believe that now? Looking at Max's life, what are some of the advantages of old age?
3. In his focus on Alice, has Max missed the one person who truly loved him his whole life—
Hughie? Is it ever easy to recognize such devoted people in our lives?
4. What is society's basis for determining whether a lover is an appropriate age? In what ways does Max's condition actually help illuminate his true character?
5. Max loves Alice as a daughter, as a wife, and as a mother. How does this echo the various roles a lover plays in our lives? Which of Max's roles is he best suited to? Do we always take on recurring roles when it comes to love?
6. Are Max's fears of infancy—the inability to walk independently, care for himself, and articulate his needs—very different from the traditional fears of growing old?
7. Max's first role in Alice's life is as her
"Shabbos goy." Does Max later continue to be the "houseboy of her heart" in some way—an aid in her life?
8. Is Max's reverse aging the only thing standing in the way of his happiness? How much of his outcome is affected by his personality, fate,

and other factors?
9. Max's condition gives him unusual opportunities—
for instance, having access to his son's life that few fathers have ever had. Does it deepen or erase his role as a parent? Though they both appear to be boys, is there still a generation gap between Max and his son?
10. The word confession carries connotations of wrongdoing or scandal on the part of the speaker. To what is Max Tivoli confessing in his "memoir"? Is first-person narration crucial to this plot?
11. Alice is not a typical Victorian woman. She is hotheaded and freethinking; what do you think of her as a match for Max? Is she merely selfcentered and flaky, or do you agree with Victor
Ramsey's theory that she changed her life through the only means available to women during that time period: marriage? What is
Alice's ultimate reason for leaving Max?
12. Max struggles to make his outward appearance both socially acceptable and less at odds with his psyche. Describe what your external appearance would look like if it were a pictureperfect representation of your psyche.
13. How did you feel when you read of Hughie's death? Why do you think he killed himself?
Did the modern idea of a "gay man" exist back then? Given that at the time even openly gay
Oscar Wilde had a wife and children (as
Hughie did), what options did gay men and women have for happiness or love?
14. What would you have done with a life like
Max's? Is he an idealist, an artist in a world not made for him, or a brute who squandered a potentially happy life? What are the sources of a truly happy life? In what ways have you

"grown younger" in your own life?

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Confessions of Max Tivoli 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
songcatchers More than 1 year ago
Imagine: when you are born you come into the world looking like a 70 year old man all wrinkles, loose skin and liver-spotted arms. As you age though, your physical appearance grows more youthful. You get your geriatric body and arthritis over with while you are a child and when you are an old man with all your lifetime of experience, you have a youthful body to enjoy. This is the story of Max Tivoli.

The Confessions of Max Tivoli is narrated by the title character Max. It is Max writing his life story down for his son, the love of his life and future doctors to study. Max was born different, old looking, and stumped the doctors of the time (turn of the century) as to what his disease was. The age that Max looked and the age he actually was always seemed to add up to 70. So when he had lived for 50 years, he had the body and looks of a 20 year old man. This is both a blessing and a curse for Max and through reading his life story we find out why.

The Confessions of Max Tivoli is a love story....but a distinctly unique one. The opening line says "We are each the love of someone's life" and this is true for Max in several heart breaking ways. Alice is the love of Max's life and he meets her at three different stages of his life. The first time is when he is 17 (but looks to be in his 50's) and Alice is 14. He instantly is taken with her but she wants nothing to do with the 'old' man who lives upstairs. Their paths collide later on though when Alice is in her 30's and they fall in love and marry. Before Alice leaves him shortly after, he leaves her a gift that is born 9 months later in the form of Sammy. Max finds out about his son Sammy when he's an old man (but looks like a child) and goes on a search to find Sammy and Alice. Alice takes her ex-husband in as an orphan child and adopts him. So Max, once the husband and father, becomes the son and brother. At the three different times that Max knows Alice, she doesn't recognize him. He is three different people to her and it's heartbreaking to know he can't tell her the truth.

The Confessions of Max Tivoli takes place at the turn of the century San Francisco and incorporates real historical events into the story, for instance the infamous San Francisco Earthquake. The characters are unforgettable and so human. This is an exceptional, strange and beautiful yet heartrending story that I can't wait to read again
Guest More than 1 year ago
Upon reading the back of the book, I thought, 'What an interesting idea, I'm sure it will be wonderful'. I was fooled! This book is so boring that it is painful to endure. The lack of dialogue makes the book very bland and tedious. Max Tivoli's life was dull and sad. He made nothing of himself and even his romance was lame. The book would have been more interesting if the author would have allowed that the character take more chances and develop a more riveting plot. It was so tiring to read the same sob story page after page.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I havent read a book this well written in a long time. Max Tivoli gets another opportunity for true love, and on his quest for Alice, the reader sees the best and the worst of human nature. I loved how everything was woven together, and I love even more the fact that this book has made me think about my own life, about the opportunities we have, whether they are taken or missed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was fortunate enough to be the narrator for the audio version of 'The Confessions of Max Tivoli', thus I am able to write of this book before it's release. In short, '...Max Tivoli' was a thrill to read aloud. Mr. Greer has a wonderful gift for expressive language and his astonishing story seemed to tell itself. I was so taken by this book that I'm planning to reread it...this time myself. Thank you, Andrew.
msjoanna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Max Tivoli is a man whose body ages backwards -- he is born looking 70 and slowly advances toward childhood. He shares his secret with precious few and instead tries to follow The Rule: Be what they think you are. Thus, as a teenager, he passes for a middle-aged man, and as an old man acts as a boy. The story was reasonably well done and it was easy enough to suspend disbelief while listening. Nonetheless, I never came to love Max as a character, nor did I love Alice, the love of Max's life. The book might have interested me more if it explored Max telling Alice (or others) about his condition rather than maintaining his secret. The reader for the audio version does an excellent job.
Schmerguls on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This 2004 novel tells of a guy who lives his life backwards--he starts out with the body of an old man and gets younger instead of older. The concept is worked out fairly well, and of course he has lots of problems but it makes for an interesting and ultimately poignant story. While I suppose not a 'manly' book I found it good reading, and not as "precious" as say "Memoirs of a Geisha" orother maybe designed for women books.
elenchus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I finished Andrew Sean Greer's The Confessions of Max Tivoli not for the story, but for the prose. Greer unspools lyrical chains of words, primarily description but aphorisms are scattered throughout, appearing every 10 or 20 pages. The prose in these instances is arresting and almost out of place, in the sense my attention shifts immediately from following the plot to appreciating the wordcraft. The story is suited to the premise, though. Max's journal unfolds prosaically, not strictly chronological and functioning a bit like a thriller, with unexpected (for me) turns of fate and coincidence which seem ludicrously obvious, in retrospect. But also, inevitable: when a boy's life hinges on the fact that he grows older, mentally and in experience, even as his body grows younger, from a newborn senility to a doddering infancy, the major turning points in relationships are a given. Greer handles them well, not avoiding them or running from them, but fitting them to his tale so it seems he chose them. In fact, he could have chosen little else. In the end, it's interesting to note how common Max's life was, in terms of his friendships and his internal dramas, despite the enourmous challenges of his whimsical condition. Perhaps the best that could be made from such a premise, after all.I know of two movies using similar premises: The Curious Life of Benjamin Button, based upon a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald; and the Tom Hanks vehicle, Big. There are other kin, including a minor character in Phantom Tollbooth and (thanks to another LT review) the Jonathan Winter's character in Mork & Mindy. Greer successfully avoids having his book seem like a mere copy, though I've not read or seen the Benjamin Button story to know how derivative it might be.I was surprised at the poignancy of the ending sections (there are no proper chapters, just four parts divided into sections to mimic new entries in a diary). The end is logical, given the fantastical premise, so it's not a surprise, exactly. But it emphasizes the parallel situations (physical, mental) between children and the elderly, and is all the more emotional for it. I think it avoids becoming overly sentimental or even saccharine, but I might disagree if I read it a second time. (I give the book 3 rather than 2 stars based upon the effect the ending had on me.)I've grown tired of the literary conceit of publishing an alleged "found text", with the author pretending to serve merely as editor rather than creator. Greer leans on this device, and saves himself primarily in the clever details (and brevity) of his "A Note on the Text".
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oh my! This has to have been one of the most gut-wrenching and heartbreaking stories I've read in a long time. The author's prose style is absolutely exquisite, and by the end of the book, don't be surprised if you're reaching for a tissue. I don't think I'll leave this one behind mentally for some time. Very highly recommended.The premise of the book (which, if I had to classify it in a genre, I don't know if I could do so -- maybe along the lines of "fanstastical" if that's any help) is that when the main character, Max Tivoli, was born, he was born with the physical traits of an old man and as he aged chronologically, he became younger. So that when he was 14, he looked like he was in his late 50s, and then steadily grew younger looking as he got older. Max's story begins with his birth, then takes us through childhood, his teens, middle age, and then his last years. It is the story of Max finding and losing the love of his life, not once, but three times. Each time he finds her, he is a different person to her, because of course, he changes backwards in time; each time he finds her, the relationship changes. It is his overwhelming love for this woman that transcends his own condition here -- and it is this that really is the main thrust of the story.An absolutely delightful and thought-provoking novel; it hit me right in the gut. To be honest, there isn't that much fiction over my lifespan that has left me with this kind of reaction; when it does, I consider it a very fine book. I very highly recommend this one.
sloepoque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Max Tivoli has a unique problem. He was born as a 70 year old infant who shortly grew into the body of a 70 year old man with the mind of an infant. His chronology was reversed his entire life except for one brief period of time when his age and his appearance came together. This is an unusual premise I thought posed all kinds of interesting situations for an author to resolve. Unfortunately, Andrew Sean Greer chose to focus on one particular element in Max's life, and he made it an obsession.Max first meets Alice Levy when she is 14 years old; mentally he is close to the same age. However, Max looks like a man in his 60's, so it is inappropriate for a man with his appearance to be pursuing a young girl with any kind of serious intentions. Yet Max has serious intentions. He deeply loves Alice and wants to spend his life with her. This is impossible for him at the time in which they meet.The rest of Max's story is about his obsession with Alice and how it affects everything else in his life. With that in mind, the author skips over or minimizes details that should have some priority in Max's life. For instance: Max has the same job for 20 years, yet no one with whom he works ever notices that while they're growing older, Max is getting younger? He might be able to carry that off for a few years, but it's odd that his co-workers didn't question that the 50-something year old man who was hired for the job became a 30-something hunk.There were times reading about Max became very tedious. He's so self-involved to the exclusion of everything else that he becomes less and less sympathetic as the story progresses. The convenience with which problems seem to miraculously melt away from him stretches credibility entirely too far. Max's story begins with the words We are each the love of someone's life." Eliminate all the flaws in this book, and what Green has written is the tragic confession of a man who, through no fault of his own, was dealt a terrible hand at birth. The way his circumstances impact the lives of those around him make this book worth reading.
stonelaura on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although our library copy has a Sci-Fi sticker on the spine, this is sci-fi like The Time Traveler¿s Wife is sci-fi ¿ not really. Yes, Max is living his internal life backward while in a body that goes through the normal physical stages, but really it¿s about love ¿ or obsessive love. When Max first sees Alice, his downstairs lodger, it¿s love at first sight. All would be fine except that with his condition, while he may feel seventeen inside, he looks 50-something on the outside ¿ hardly the great attractor to Alice at fourteen. The book follows Max¿s trials through life as he pursues Alice in his many ¿disguises.¿ Greer doesn¿t pretend that Max¿s obsession is all for the good. There definitely is an element of selfishness in Max ¿ he has hurt people. Ultimately the book is really about how we always seem to love the person we can¿t have. Alice has loved Max¿s closet gay friend Hughie (it¿s the late 1800¿s when the love story begins), Hughie has pined for Max, albeit in a quiet and non-demonstrative way, and, of course, Max is obsessed with Alice. Greer is pretty magical with words as well as story line.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Which came first: Max Tivoli or TimeTraveler's Wife? The truth is that to me it doesn't really matterwhich was published first; what matters is what I read first and thatwas Time Traveler's Wife. Consequently, Max feels like an uglieryounger sister.Max is the story of a man whose body ages backwards; that is, Max isborn old and gradually becomes younger and younger. Complicating hislife is his love for a woman who, sadly, ages normally.The idea for the story is clever and Max is a sympathetic figure, butI never had that can't-put-the-book-down feeling.
crazybatcow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It has a very interesting premise. It is well-written. It keeps you turning the pages to find out how it will end...Did I mention it has a very interesting premise?But... it lacks a connection to the reader. There is little feeling/sympathy generated for Max. It's an interesting "study" of a very odd "disease" from an outsiders look in, but... Max himself is uninteresting and un-engaging, making the book feel like a non-fiction.Not that this makes it bad, just that it doesn't end up being as good as I had hoped.
RachelPenso on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think I would have enjoyed this story more if I hadn't seen the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It was written before the movie came out and the movie was not based on the book, but it was the same concept. A man is born as an old, wrinkly man and grows backwards-- younger and younger until he has the body of a young child but the mind and life experiences of an old man.
tikilights on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A heartbreaking story of a man who is born old and ages backwards. He falls in love with a girl and has different interactions and moments with her through his lifetime.Greer did a great job of developing Max Tivoli's character throughout the whole transition of his life. It was tough at times to read because you know his happiness won't last as he progressively got younger. Alice, Max's love, was the weakest part of the story. She seemed almost unworthy of Max's love and devotion because she was so flaky and unlikable as a character. Otherwise, this book was very enjoyable.
brianinbuffalo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Inventive. Thought-provoking. Riveting. I started this book with some hesitation. By the time I was a third of the way through it, I realized this would be one story that would stay with me for a long time. Great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why does this sound so familiar? Oh yeah, F. Scott Fitzgerald did the same thing with Benjamin Button. So much for an original idea.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite book. I read it twice, cried both times. It's beautiful, it's tragic, it's different from anything else I've read. Anyone who has known true love and/or unrequited love will most likely be deeply moved. Side note: every guy I know who has read it LOVED it, and every girl i've known who has read it thought it was just OK. 
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JustCassie More than 1 year ago
I read this book long ago and it still remains one of my favorites. The way its written just lets you escape to the world of the characters and easily picture everything going on. Extremely original and touching, I'd take this story over Benjamin Button any time.
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