(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

As Max Saw It combines introspection and observation in the narration of its principal character, Max Strong, who becomes an intimate of the wealthy and famous. Despite a failed marriage, he prospers and is drawn ever more closely into Charlie Swan’s relationship with Toby, whose death from AIDS leads Charlie to choose the same fate.

At the Rumorosa, the Italian villa of Edna and Rodney Joyce on the edge of Lake Como, Max is introduced by his friend Arthur to the Joyces and their guests. As a poor, salaried academic, Max feels ill at ease, not their “sort.” Among the guests is Toby, a youth so attractive that Max at first thinks he is a young woman. Max also encounters his former Harvard classmate, Charlie Swan, now a famous architect. Large, handsome, overbearing, Charlie is angry at Max for not attending Charlie’s marriage ten years earlier. The two make up, however, and their relationship continues to the end. Also at the villa is Laura, an attractive redhead with an art gallery in Milan. Their flirtation culminates in their sharing her bed that night.

Returning to Boston, Max visits Cousin Emma, an ailing widow whose chief concern is what to do with her considerable wealth. She decides that Max, her only remaining relative, should receive it upon her death. A year later, Max is in Beijing to give a seminar on contract law. His attractive guide, Miss Wang, who plans to come to Harvard, takes him to the Forbidden City, where they happen upon Charlie...

(The entire section is 609 words.)