Fiction: Call me by your name, André Aciman
Call me by your name (André Aciman, Hardcover, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 256 pages, January 2007) is a very well written novel, short and dense, about passion, love and the effect of time. I reviewed it in this column earlier this year. The book is having quite a success, it is ranked #3,140 at amazon.com which provides 63 customer reviews as of this week! I found the following review very good:
"The Beauty of Language,The Landscape of Mind (Review posted at amazon.com, by Amos Lassen from Little Rock, Arkansas on January 28, 2007)
Having just closed the covers of Andre Aciman's "Call Me By Your Name", I feel compelled to sit down and write what is going on in my mind. I am an avid reader and I have come across many books in my life yet the experience I had in readingAciman's book is like one seldom found in the printed word. The book is pure beauty. Aciman has managed to tackle all of the emotions and put them down in beautiful prose. As you read you feel as if you have been hit over the head and literally dragged into the pages of the novel. You will experience feelings that you had no idea you were capable of and you will look back at your own life and begin to view it as you have never done before.
I am in awe of the novel and the novelist. It is not often that a single book can awaken these emotions in me and I am so glad that I found one book that made me sit up and realize so much--about the world and about myself.
The theme of adolescent love has become a staple in the world of literature and unfortunately more often than not it becomes a tired subject.Aciman has taken the theme and breathed fresh life into it. Here we have a story of love and regret that once read will not be quickly forgotten.
The book is about a romance that blooms quite suddenly between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at the youth's parent's summer home on the Italian seaside. Neither is prepared what might happen as a result of mutual attraction so they each pretend to be indifferent to the other. As might be expected, as the days pass during that beautiful summer, passion is unbridled and they test their feelings for each other. In doing so obsession and fear as well as fascination and desire burst forth allowing hidden feelings to surface, sometimes quite erotically. They find themselves involved in a deep and meaningful romantic encounter which barely lasts six weeks but eaves an indelible mark on both of them, a mark they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. What they discover in their feelings for each other is a total intimacy that happens maybe once in a lifetime.
Aciman captures beautifully the psychological maneuverings of the boy and the man as he writes his lament about human passion. When the love of their dreams explodes into the reality of closeness, we get a sentence that reads, "I did not know where all this was leading, but I was surrendering to him, inch by inch, and he must have known it, for I sensed he still keeping a distance between us." This sense of love to come pervades the novel and when that love does come it is inclusive, it is beautiful and it is highly sensual.
Before that love shows its face there are games played--footsie at dinner, stares of lust and steel, long runs, mind games. Seventeen year oldElio , an Italian youth and Oliver, an American graduate student play the game of cat and mouse with ambiguity, hostility and, above all, attraction. We, the readers, see the story from inside Elio's mind and thoughts where everything has meaning.
What about the sex? Believe me, it is there and there is plenty of it. There are also elaborate erotic fantasies and what makes all of this so interesting is that Andre Aciman is a straight man writing about gay sex. What Aciman set out to do in his novel was to show us human intimacy in all its preciousness and in all of its idiosyncrasies. The beauty of the language and the descriptions make you want to hop into the pages and be there with the characters--not as a fly on the wall, but as an active participant. It would be a chance to see what true intimacy is all about.
Desire has always been a cornerstone of life but I can tell you the desire that you read about in the pages of this book is unlike any other you have had the experience to read about or even to know. The pain of love is hard to depict in words yet "Call Me By Your Name" is an achingly painful and beautiful tribute to desire and intimacy and one you will not likely walk away from and forget.
I have recommended many books and I will continue to do so but this book is so dear, so tender, so brutal and so beautiful that I say this to you--if you read no other book this year, read this one."
I don't know if "what makes all of this so interesting is that André Aciman is a straight man writing about gay sex." I rather think that it is very difficult to believe... and somewhat disappointing... This is by far the best gay novel of 2007.
Non-fiction: Being Homosexual: Gay Men and Their Development, Richard A. Isay
Being Homosexual: Gay Men and Their Development (Richard A. Isay, Hardcover, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pages, 1989), my choice for this year was published many years ago... I just happened to read it this year and since this is a new column I feel free to talk about it. I wish I had read it when I was in my twenties, although I was probably not ready for that. It is one of the best books about homosexuality and how to come to terms with it, that was ever written. It is short, up to the point, and uses very straight (sorry) and simple language. The author is an American psychiatrist who went himself through a long journey of self-acceptance as a gay man in the seventies. The book is divided into nine chapters. The best are chapters 1 (What is Homosexuality), 4 (Adolescence and Young Adulthood of Gay Men), 6 (Lovers and Others: Gay Relationships). In a nutshell,Isay's thesis is that homosexuality is a natural variant of normal sexuality and is present since childhood. Because of the way it is generally portrayed in our society gay men often suffer from injuries to their self-esteem. The best way to repair this wound is through establishing relationships with other gay men, and more than anything else through intimacy: "Relationships that are mutual and loving, both sexual and nonsexual, are essential to the healthy integration of a homosexual identity, promoting a positive self-image."Isay also writes that he believes that similarities between two partners may prove a burden over a long period of time and that "the sexual and emotional interest simply wanes more rapidly in such relations because there is neither the tension that promotes sexual excitement nor room for emotional growth. Many successful gay relationships are based on a difference in the partners - a difference in age, race, social status, or personality that provides the complementarity that allows for the tension of sexual desire and also the emotional space for the couple to grow in." Food for thought.
Note: I have no special interest in Farrar, Straus and Giroux...