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AS MAX SAW IT by Louis Begley


by Louis Begley

Pub Date: April 18th, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-43307-4
Publisher: Knopf

In a novel seemingly about a man's coming to terms with his own humanity and the depth of feeling within his heart, Begley (The Man Who Was Late, 1993; Wartime Lies, 1991) is unlikely here to evoke any depth of feeling in the reader's heart. He's too busy flaunting his considerable knowledge about the pretensions of the rich and the portentousness of the gifted. Max Foster, a distinguished law professor at Harvard, has led a life devoid of deep emotional attachments. On holiday in Italy, he becomes reacquainted with an old friend named Charlie Swan, a brilliant architect who has taken up a life of homosexuality after a painful divorce. Charlie's current lover is a beautiful boy named Toby, a spiritual orphan who becomes the older man's son/lover/apprentice. The paths of Max and Charlie cross frequently over the course of the novel, as Max begins to open his heart to the love of various women, most notably a duplicitous English intellectual who becomes his wife. The problem is, although Max is supposed to become a more sympathetic character as the book progresses, Begley never really lets us inside the heart of his protagonist. Max says he is hurt when his wife leaves him, but the reader feels no affinity for his pain. Begley does, however, frequently drop the names of exotic locales, prestigious families, and fancy liqueurs. Only when Toby is diagnosed as having AIDS does Max exhibit any kind of real emotion, and even then, it pales in comparison to Charlie's desperation. Nonetheless, As Max Saw It is an enjoyable read, most notably for the magnificent character of Charlie Swan, a man so outsized in his feelings and appetites that he dwarfs everyone else in the novel.