Sara's Reviews > The Confessions of Max Tivoli

The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer
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May 22, 2008

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Recommended for: sophisticated, educated readers who are not too jaded to enjoy a tall tale or a meaningful fantasy
Read in May, 2008

This is one of the better books I've read in quite awhile. Part of this is because I haven't been reading much this year, but also this is a beautifully worded book, a delicious slow read with an imaginative premise and poetry and philosophy on nearly every page. It has, however, two unforgivable flaws.

The most glaring unforgivable flaw is the ending, which is frankly unworthy of the rest of the book, in the words of my true love "a cop-out all around." I won't discuss that here (but might on my blog in a day or two, if I have time) because it is still a wonderful book, and you should read it if you find yourself with the time and opportunity. I don't want to spoil it for you; there is a mysteriousness to it which is part of the pleasure of just letting it unfold, and despite some questionable narrative conveniences here and there, the real sinking weakness doesn't happen until the last ten pages. At that point there is a choice the author could have made, and it would have been the right choice, the smart, generous, and credible choice, and he talks about it as the character who should have made it, and then he doesn't choose it but instead picks the most melodramatic, least credible, and most heartless finish, and wraps it all up in pretty, impassioned words that I guess are supposed to make it romantic and Supremely Human but instead just make it go on too long.

The other unforgivable flaw is a completely gratuitous episode of animal cruelty which happens on pp. 106-109 of my edition (which says it is the first edition but has a "Today's Book Club" logo worked into the cover design). This is a terrible, terrible scene, and it adds nothing to the book, nothing, especially for the type of reader most likely to enjoy this book, someone already well aware what that time and place were like, but now it is stuck in my head forever. (Oh, thanks.) I highly recommend you bleep over it when you come to it.

It is a credit to the writing of this book that I didn't slam it shut at this point and throw it away. I did read the rest of the book warily, though, and will not automatically reach for another book by this author because inclusion of this scene as well as the insufferably weak choices that the author made at the very end of his own tale lead me not to trust him to tell me a story on which I will be glad to have spent time. I don't regret most of the time spent on this one, though. The wordcraft alone was quite dazzling.
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