As anyone who’s followed my illustrious career as a poster on this here blog knows, The Confessions of Max Tivoli, by Andrew Sean Greer, was one of my favorite books, and his writing style (based on that one book) was right up my alley. At long last, and thanks to the good folks at Wordsmith’s in Decatur, I finally laid my mitts on his first novel, The Path of Minor Planets. (Note: Max Tivoli was his second novel.)
First things first — Max Tivoli was a hard act to follow for any author. Especially if the book they’re following it with was actually written before it, and represented the author’s first attempt at a novel. And The Path of Minor Planets was not as engaging, compelling, or moving as Max Tivoli. Which doesn’t mean it was bad. Just not as good.
This book tells the story of a group of people linked through a circle of astronomers, and follows their lives over time beginning with a meeting/celebration held on an island in the Pacific in 1965 where they’ve all gathered to witness the return of a comet named for one of them, and picking up every six years or so as the comet’s orbit takes it to its farthest and nearest points. My mild disappointment with this book was that there were quite a few characters to follow, and I don’t believe any of them was developed enough to truly gain the reader’s trust, empathy or compassion. It’s not really clear who was good, who was bad, and who was indifferent. And that’s what made the story less compelling for yours truly.
But, and this is a big but (that’s a shout out to our blogmaster), Greer’s writing style was already polished by the time he wrote this. I’ve got at least a dozen pages dog-eared in the book so that I can go back and read and re-read quotes that I found just spellbinding. Some examples:
She was in the present moment only, and the present felt very different for her, very unlike that of these languid scientists with their wine and smoke. For them, the present was a hinge between the past and the future, but for her it was a wide, clear plain in which to act.
He learned then that failure was not a mallet; it was a trowel, smoothing and solidifying a life.
And one more:
She wanted to go back and speak to each different girl she’d been — the heartbroken twenty-year-old artist, the cocky adolescent slut, the lonely stupid child — and give them a good talking-to. [She] did not feel as though they were part of her, but rather that these former selves were the team that built her; and, like a monster ashamed of its creation, she wanted to confront her makers. She knew, though, that even if she could, she would not have had the nerve — they would have stood before her, shaking, merely children.
Maybe it’s just me, but each of those (and the handfuls more printed on the maimed pages of my copy of the book) are examples of brilliant writing. And even though the story (which typically represents about three-quarters of what I care about in a book) was mildly disappointing, the words on the pages that told the story are so well constructed that I have no regrets about having invested my time and energy on this book.