Call Me by your Name by André Aciman
To say that the book is superbly written, and that it inhabits the very difficult territory of a literary love story, is to say that the achievement of Aciman is large. He’s depicted the cauldron of young love, youth, erotic ecstasy, with exquisite lyricism. There’s no contradiction in asserting at the same time that the prose is overwrought and claustrophobic. Lyricism carries these risks and Aciman pushes the boundaries. The anxious state of the prose is a match to the age of Elio, in whose voice the story is told. He is an impossible to believe seventeen year old who knows everything, wants everything, remembers everything; and in his unbelievability he becomes vivid and tangible. The voice of the novel matches the character of Elio perfectly, I think. The story is slight and most of its permutations can be intuited from the fact of its being centered on a summer romance. Those words are too palid for what happens between Elio and Oliver but they’re useful enough. Elio becomes obsessed with Oliver, who becomes obsessed with Elio, though more quietly. The difficulty of writing that includes the erotic is that what a person responds to is often very specific and centered on what he, she, or they likes. This was the case for me in the reading of this book. Elio’s ordinary consciousness is so charged that when the love scenes happen they have nowhere to go but into the territory of the purple. This must be a reaction that is in the minority of readers, but nevertheless I had it. The scene with the peach just made me giggle and put the book down for a while. I had to think about the actual stickiness and flimsiness of peaches, and the roughness and sharpness of their pits. The book is notable for its ignoring of categories, its fluid shifting of desire. There is a wonderful passage in which a character shifts from man to woman to man to woman from paragraph to paragraph. After the Rome episodes my interest flagged. The book ended with a bit of a whimper. For me, when a book like this is successful, I want to dive into it again and live it anew. With this book I was relieved that it was over, much as I admire it.