A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
New York: Farrar, 2007.
This novel is a romance, both with a capital “r,” the kind that emphasizes subjectivity of the individual, and the small “r” kind, the Harlequin type that you must devour page by page, word by word, until you come to the final sentence of this desperate love affair between two young men.
I found the first half tediously slow. But then I thought, Aciman must want us to be inside the head of the protagonist narrator, Elio. These are the mind and heart of a seventeen-year-old boy who can’t decide who he is whether it’s with regard to sexual orientation or his prodigious musicianship (he transcribes manuscripts from one instrument to another and sells them). His mind belabors everything including the appearance of a young graduate student, Oliver, who comes to live in his family’s Italian villa for the summer of 1983, a tradition Elio’s father, a professor, has begun years before: the summer intern.
Both Elio and Oliver waste half the summer semi-rejecting one another, making love to girls, until finally Elio becomes more aggressive and discovers Oliver has wanted him since they first met. Their first kiss doesn’t occur until page 81. But for a short, intense two weeks they become so close that they almost become one, wearing each other’s clothing, Elio especially in love with a red swim suit of Oliver’s. The very idea of calling each other by their own names—taking the name your parents have given you and calling your lover by that name—is a mental flip the reader must make to understand the depth of their intimacy:
“Perhaps the physical and the metaphorical meanings are clumsy ways of understanding what happens when two beings need, not just to be close together, but to become so totally ductile that each becomes the other. To be who I am because of you. To be who he was because of me. To be in his mouth while he was in mine and no longer know whose it was, his cock or mine, that was in my mouth” (142-3).
“If you remember everything, I wanted to say, and if you are really like me, then before you leave tomorrow, or when you’re just ready to shut the door of the taxi and have already said goodbye to everyone else and there’s not a thing left to say in this life, then, just this once, turn to me, even in jest, or as an afterthought, which would have meant everything to me when we were together, and, as you did back then, look me in the face, hold my gaze, and call me by your name” (248).
NEXT TIME: My Literary World