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The eponymous narrator of Louis Begley’s As Max Saw It is a lifelong onlooker. Although Max teaches at Harvard Law School and authors a best-selling book, he’s otherwise a polite, quiet bystander to his demonstrative, jet-setting acquaintances, a man who enjoys but seems to feel he doesn’t quite deserve his inherited wealth. This humbleness bolsters Max’s powers of observation—his lack of self-absorption affords him time to weigh others’ feelings and motives. As Max Saw It turns out to be about homosexuality and AIDS, but as experienced secondhand (of course) by the heterosexual Max, a compassionate witness who subtly brings to mind others’ complacency during the AIDS crisis. Begley, a New York City lawyer who won the PEN Hemingway Award for his 1991 novel, Wartime Lies, has received the American Academy Award of Arts and Letters for this 1994 effort. He reads at 7 p.m. at Olsson’s, 1200 F St. NW. (202) 347-3686. (Nathalie op de Beeck)