The Confessions of Max Tivoli Andrew Sean Greer

(June 16, 2013) In this essay E.W will explore Greer’s use of the motif “Be what they think you are” in The Confessions of Max Tivoli to characterize the protagonist Max Tivoli.

In the novel, The Confessions of Max Tivoli , author Andrew Sean Greer takes the common themes of love and mortality and turns them into a unique consideration of the fine line between deceit and self sacrifice. The novel is written as a memoir, narrated by the main character Max Tivoli. Tivoli was born as a child in the body of a 70 year old man. His mother advises him as a child to, “be what they think you are.” this advice, “The Rule” is a motif that Greer uses as motivation for a series of lies and identities Max Tivoli creates and becomes in an obsessive, lifelong pursuit of his love, Alice.

During their lifetime, Alice and Max Tivoli meet three times: first, when he looks old and she is very young, again when they look the age they are, and finally when Alice is old and Max appears young. At his mother’s home Max introduces himself as Max Tivoli, his mother’s brother-in-law. Taking his mother’s advice, Max (age 17) behaves like an older man - exactly what Alice thinks he is. He begins a twisted affair with Alice’s mother to be closer to Alice. This affair finds its inevitable end when Max (appearing 60) kiss the 14 year old Alice. She and her mother move away, both hurt and disgusted, leaving Max (17) alone and keenly aware of the isolation created by the prison of his circumstances.

The second time Max employs his mother’s advice is when he meets Alice again on the streets of San Francisco. She doesn’t recognize him, so he once again takes on a false identity - a 30 year old by the name of Asgar. Upon seeing her, Max says to himself, “ Time, that unfaithful friend had changed her.” Alice eventually falls in love with Max and they marry. Despite finally being able to be with the object of his fixation Max has to hide his true identity as well as his unusual condition. And, while she dyes her hair to cover the old age, he dyes his hair gray to cover his youth. When Max eventually reveals himself to Alice as well as their previous meeting she, in a state of anger and confusion, leaves him vowing to never see him again. Alice’s departure highlights the tremendous effort Max Tivoli must put into being with his love and, also, the failure created by such an enormous level of dishonesty.

The third, and final time Alice and Max Tivoli meet is when Max has the appearance of a 12 year old boy. Yearning to meet his son, Max is driven to Alice’s home by his lifelong friend, Hughie. Hughie is a child hood friend of both Max and Alice, and Max introduces himself to Alice as Hughie’s son. This is his third identity. In a final effort to be close to Alice Max suggests that his best friend leave, imitating child abandonment, without realizing he was breaking his friends heart. Max even states, “ It takes too much imagination to see the sorrows of the people we take for happy.” This selfish act drives Hughie to commit suicide, leaving Max in Alice’s care. Max continues to live as a sue-do brother to his son until running away, leaving Alice a letter with a final explanation of his true identity.

Over the course of Max Tivoli’s life Greer creates a continuing struggle between good and selfishness. Despite the trail of emotional destruction Max leaves behind him there is no moment in his constant decent into youth where he can feel the satisfaction of having the acceptance and love that he continually tried to give Alice. The motif of his mother’s advice ironically is the source of the majority of Max’s misfortune and depression.

(E.W. 2013)

The Story of a Marriage Andrew Sean Greer

(June 16, 2013) In this essay E.W will discuss how Andrew Sean Greer uses historical references and allusions to historical events in the novel, The story of a Marriage, to structure turning points in the novel.

In the novel, Greer references and alludes to three separate men being drafted in three separate wars and the effects on a marriage, a relationship, a family. The draft of World War II brings a couple together as a woman hides her love from being drafted until being caught, the draft of the Korean war is used as a tool to end a suspicion, and the Vietnam war shows the love of a mother who understands the need for her son to avoid the draft.

The first draft of World War II bring Pearlie and Holland Cook together. He is drafted and his mother tells him that he is not allowed to go, instead he is to stay locked in his room. Pearlie was the girl who comes everyday and spends time with him in that dark room, just reading, talking about the current events. It is there that the two fall in love, until he is discovered and drafted. He is painted yellow and so is she for keeping his secret. This draft causes the first turning point in the novel; it is what starts the love to grow between Pearlie and Holland. As she states on page 56, “There was a romance to it, at least. A childish romance warming into an adolescent one, as we sat together day after day; fumbling with books become fumbling with our hands.” It is all because of the draft, or Holland avoiding the draft that the two fell in love.

The second draft, the draft for the Korean War was the second turning point. The man that Holland worked for asks Holland to drive his daughter home from her classes everyday — apparently this was a big deal for an employee to do in the 1950s. Pearlie expresses her concern on page 66 when she states, “...his beauty seemed to passion this power in others. It was his naive talent. But, the father was right in his trust; Holland would never knowingly betray it, but the girl herself might.” This made Pearlie begin to question her husband, and doubt his loyalty to her. At this point Holland and Pearlie have been married for a few years and they have a son together, so this thought is devastating to Pearlie. Then, instead of confronting the girl, Annabel, or her husband, Pearlie finds out that the girl is in love with a boy who has avoided being drafted to Korea by some mistake. To end the suspicion, Pearlie tells the government about the mistake and the boy receives his letter to be drafted, the girl marries him. All by using the draft to her advantage, and creating a turning point in the marriage where they can just have trust, and no doubts.

The third draft in the novel, the one caused by the Vietnam War, adds one more turning point to the novel. After Holland has passed on her son is old enough to be drafted. Sonny, the boy, get a letter to be drafted in the Vietnam War. So, just like she did for her husband, Pearlie tells her son to avoid the draft and he listens to her. “Sonny did not go to war, but he did fight. He fought on his campus; he fought hard, and tried to shout down the war, tried to burn it down” (page 182). Pearlie and Holland had taught Sonny the values of fighting for his own cause, not someone else's. After he attends college, and protests the war, he then goes to Canada until Carter tells all of them they can come home. This is a turning point in the novel because it is a bookend ending; Pearlie had protected her husband from war by hiding him, and that is what she told Sonny to do too. The only exception was that Sonny got away with it.

In the end, the three historical references and allusions of the drafts structure the three turning points in the novel. Whether it be World War II and the growth of love, the Korean War and the rebuilding of trust, or the Vietnam War where a mother is able to save her son from war, since she didn’t save her husband.

(2013 E.W.)