Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

As Max Saw It is Begley’s third novel. His first two novels depict characters coming to terms with personal trauma. This third novel focuses on human relationships and how they give meaning to a world in which suffering is both inevitable and inexplicable. Begley’s craftsmanship places him among the most respected novelists of the day, and his modern themes give his fiction even greater relevance and value.

As Max Saw It has been compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) in that Max, like Nick Caraway in Gatsby, tells the story of a man of wealth whose romantic entanglements doom him. By naming one of his principal characters Charlie Swan, Begley suggests, too, a connection to Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (1922-1931), whose narrator, Charles Swann, searches for truth in retrospectives of his own life. Begley carries on the tradition of the introspective narrator in search of truth. For Max, people and events offer him insights into human nature and the human condition. The novel focuses on the way humans search for emotional fulfillment and sometimes destroy themselves in search of it. When Charlie says that Toby wants “fraternity, not equality,” he defines the fundamental need of all humans and the goal toward which the principal characters of the novel unconsciously strive. In this struggle, one’s humanity is revealed. Charlie implies its measure when he describes Max as “One who has power to hurt and will do none.” In this novel, Begley mitigates the despair that human suffering causes and the moral dilemma in which the knowledge of evil places one. He stops short of suggesting that Toby’s disease is divine retribution for his wayward life and sexuality. Nor is it a metaphor of the soul’s inability to sustain itself in a fallen world. Still searching for value in human existence, Max finds a measure of it in the humanity of those who suffer, sacrifice, and, sometimes, are destroyed.