kottke.org posts about theconfessionsofmaxtivoli

Younger than we used to be

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2008

While we’re on the topic of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Andrew Sean Greer wrote a book with a similar premise published in 2004 called The Confessions of Max Tivoli. It was based in part on the same Fitzgerald story as Fincher’s film.

Mr. Greer is candid about the precedents: F. Scott Fitzgerald told a related story in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and that in turn was inspired by a remark of Mark Twain that the best part of life came at the beginning and the worst part at the end. Later Fitzgerald found “an almost identical plot” in Samuel Butler’s “Note-books.” In “The Sword and the Stone,” which Mr. Greer read as a child, Merlin ages backward. Mr. Greer carries it further back, to Greek mythology, and forward to “Mork & Mindy,” in which Jonathan Winters played a baby. And at one book signing, he said, a reader asked him if he knew about the “Star Trek” episode in which ——

Actually, when he began the book he was thinking more of Bob Dylan. In 2001, having published a collection of stories and in the middle of writing a novel, he found himself singing “My Back Pages” — “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” — and he had what amounted to an epiphany. “I thought that could be a book not like anything I’d written before,” he said. “It sounded like a wild adventure that no one’s going to want to read, but it could be a lot of fun, and maybe that’s the point of it.”

This passage from a NY Times review of Tivoli provides a good sense of what the tone of the film might be:

For when the repercussions of Max’s reverse aging are eventually understood, the tragedy of his predicament becomes clear. Not only does he have the exact year of his death forever staring him in the face (1941, when he will complete his 70-year process of anti-decay), but he must also live his entire life, except for a few brief months in 1906 when his real and apparent ages coincide, being something other than what he seems.

Oh, and Shaun Inman quotes from Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five about WWII moving backwards:

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating day and night, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody again.

(thx, jamaica)