Picks and Pans Review: The Confessions of Max Tivoli

updated 03/01/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/01/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Andrew Sean Greer

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What sort of curse is it to grow younger with time? Only Dick Clark might have an answer to that question—and Max Tivoli, who, in this peculiar and heartrending novel, "burst[s] into the world as if from the other end of life." In 1871 he appears to be 70, and so he knows early on—do the math—the year he will die. His grandmother even gives him a pendant with 1941 embossed on it. It is a monstrous secret that haunts Max as he tries to become comfortable in his age-reversing skin, encountering the world's horrified, freak-show stares.

The story, beautifully written and inevitably fatalistic, journeys with Max as he meets his best friend, Hughie, who also hides a secret, and falls in love with Alice, the woman his bizarre life cycle will most affect. To end up in the guise of a child and yet possess the painful wisdom of a lifetime is a somber fate. Still, for all its melancholy, this is a rich and mesmerizing fable. Time will not reverse its impact.


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