Monday, June 2, 2008

Call Me By Your Name

By Andre Aciman

Elio is 17, and spending this summer like all the others in his life, at his family's home on the Italian Riveria.

Like every other summer, his family hosts a university student for six weeks to help Elio's father with his research.

But the student this summer is Oliver, a 24 year old American whom Elio befriends.

Every swim, game of tennis, and run along the Italian Rivera the two share is fraught with the tension of their mutual attraction.

When their relationship explodes into full passion and complete intimacy, they are both changed forever.

This book won the 2008 Lambda Literary Award for best Men's Fiction book published in 2007! And even though the publisher isn't pushing it as a Young Adult novel, I am including it here on this blogsite because "Call Me By Your Name" is the story of a Teen's first love.

Add your review of this book in "comments!"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hope you don't mind a somewhat old review. :)


It's difficult not resorting to hyperbole when reviewing Aciman's debut novel, I'll admit, but I write this still feeling the effects of reading a novel this beautiful and gut-wrenching. It'll be tough containing my praise. The novel's premise might not strike us as unusual since coming-of-age stories have tackled first love and its repercussions in countless ways - but not in the same vein.

The novel is written from the boy's point of view. His name is Elio, he's seventeen, and he lives a quiet, cloistered life in the Italian Riviera. He grows up without TV but is well-read and cultured and in fact amazes Oliver (his parents' summer guest) with his knowledge of books and other subjects that would be known largely to university students. It's through his eyes that we see - experience - the developing relationship between Elio and Oliver, and it's a journey that's tender in its insight and relentless in its intensity of pure emotion.

Because we see everything through a boy's eyes - a boy who's sweet, precocious, and passionate - the development of Elio's love for Oliver is explored with the energy and myopia of the young, in every minute detail, with no stones left unturned. Aciman makes use of the first person POV with a ruthlessly precise touch, taking the human heart and peeling it - layer by layer - exposing, exposing, exposing - till we're left with nothing but raw emotion and wisdom. His careful use of language in drawing out imagery, coloring experiences with metaphors or analogies, works in creating a lush, lyrical exploration of a boy's first love and its aftermath. The beauty of the novel's prose doesn't dull the ache; if anything, it edges the pain with the kind of wistful melancholy that someone would feel when looking back in time, lost in remembrances of the most significant moment in his life.

Despite his lyricism, Aciman doesn't sugarcoat Elio's story. He digs deeply and pulls out the light and the dark of love and desire, forcing us to look at our own selves with Elio for our proxy. We've been there before, and we experience a sharp empathic reaction to the boy's story - the longing, the clumsy chase, the winning, the loss, the regret. It's a powerful connection we have with him, and it shouldn't come as a surprise if one were to walk away from the book feeling emotionally exhausted. The sex scenes progress from tentatively sensual to erotic to shocking (at least to those who aren't used to reading relatively graphic kinky scenes), but these are written tastefully and in fact are tightly bound to Elio's seemingly endless meditations on his physical, emotional, and spiritual connections with Oliver. Nothing's written for titillation, and nothing's misspent. Everything has its purpose.

Percy Bysshe Shelley's cremation, during which his heart was removed from his body before it was consumed by fire, figures in the book in three significant places, one being a discussion of the events as Elio and Oliver gaze out to the sea while spending a lazy day in town. With a subtlety that delivers a powerful kick in the gut because of its suddenness and the chasm of time between these moments, Aciman resurrects Shelley's cremation in two later scenes, thereby weaving tight, potent threads connecting history, Elio's youth, and his more recent past.

"On the train I told him about the day we thought he'd drowned and how I was determined to ask my father to round up as many fishermen as he could to go look for him, and when they found him, to light a pyre on our shore, while I grabbed Mafalda's knife from the kitchen and ripped out his heart, because that heart and his shirt were all I'd ever have to show for my life. A heart and a shirt. His heart wrapped in a damp shirt - like Anchise's fish."

And in the final few pages of the book, another reference to Shelley's heart: Cor cordium, heart of hearts. I won't reveal any more, but suffice it to say, those two moments capped my reading with the conviction that what I held in my hands was an elegiac masterpiece.