Exhibit 15.14

The Confessions of Max Tivoli

So I had to read one more novel in order to keep up with my company's book club which, by the way, has dwindled to myself and two other people making it more of a book triumvirate which could be held in the backseat of a Civic. I look forward to the day when someone else quits halfway through whatever Elie Wiesel memoir we're reading and it becomes a Book Partnership/Beach Volleyball Team.

The novel in question is Andrew Sean Greer's The Confessions of Max Tivoli, an absolutely gigantic selling book from 2004 due to a glowing review from John Updike in the New Yorker and Mitch Albom picking it for the Today Show's book club. I won't hold either of those things against the book, but O how I want to. I also probably shouldn't say it was a best seller 'due' to those things, but I'm sure they didn't hurt, neither did all of the other blurbs which are suffocating my paperback. Not knowing much about it other than its premise, I was a little unprepared for not just how big the sales for the book were but how, if you believed the praise, you might expect the response to have been even bigger.

Here's a sample:

"Enchanting"--John Updike, The New Yorker "Devastating, heartbreaking...an astonishment."--Esquire "****"--People "Quietly dazzling...keenly affecting."--The New York Times Book Review "This year's break-out novel."--Entertainment Weekly "A devastating new writer"-Michael Cunningham "A fable of surpassing gravity and beauty."--San Francisco Chronicle "One of the most talented writers around."--Michael Chabon

That's an impressive cross-section of both mainstream and literary voices coming out in favor of the book, and, I admit, the book deserves everything it got. Mitch Albom excepted. Nobody deserves that.

While I don't think I liked it as much as anyone quoted above, there's no reason to be a snob about something so well written. Mr. Updike is right to call it "enchanting" because there is very much a magic to the prose. Greer writes incredibly well, with a Chabon-esque delicacy and ornateness which might veer toward cloying but never quite lets the reader catch his or her breath long enough to ask questions. The confessor is, like Mr. Greer's reviewers, in a state of near constant rapture and no feeling or detail--especially if that feeling be love and that detail be old-timey--is above getting a few long, melodic sentences.

It's a self-consciously anachronistic style which works nicely with the turn-of-the 20th century setting and the slightly Gothic plot. Like Benjamin Button before him, our Max Tivoli is born an old man and ages backward, along the way loving the same woman three different times (once each as an old man, a middle-aged man, and then as a young boy). So it is a love story, and a rather small one at that, something that costs the book a fair amount of gravitas since the plot seems to call for something epic (Fitzgerald's story seems to have the same problem, the new Button movie seems to go to far in this direction from what I've read). It's not that love stories are bad, but that the book's lessons on loves are summed up with its first line, "We are each the love of someone's life."

While this is a perfectly acceptable first line, it is also a perfectly dumb thing to say about love. This is a book where love experienced as a teenager is permanent not just for one character but for all characters across genders, sexual orientation, and lifecycles. Greer is good enough that it doesn't ever come across as damningly sentimental but it also isn't a particularly complicated way to look at the world. The are other failings, too, mostly in how reluctant the book is to ever be away from its key relationship, as if taking more than two pages to explain the years Max is trying to die in a war will break the spell start asking questions.

Because there are questions (She really wouldn't recognize him/notice he's growing younger/believe him when he tells her?), but, in the end, they are all questions answered by the book's premise. To buy into Max's birth you have to buy into his life, and Greer makes it easy with a tight structure that forgoes most of the interim years to focus on Max at 5/65, 35/35, and 12/58. It's such a well-plotted book that I wish Greer would have left behind the revelations he gives at the end of each section since they are neither surprising nor necessary. What drama there is here has been figured out long before Greer gets around to pulling the rug out from under us (especially with a certain character's "coming out" which is an unnecessary move as Chabon-esque in its shoehorning as the novel is in its prose).

In the end, the book works because of its style, simple structure, and even simpler take on its narrator's predicament. And it does work, problems and all. It's exactly the sort of a book I was expecting to read in a club like this only with prose to match what I might otherwise choose myself. The book may not last long--it's not one for the ages--but it's a good novel, a very good novel even, and so maybe Greer made the right choice to keep a big idea small. So what if the world is larger than this, because it's rarely as lovely. That's something, too.

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