Books

Book 606: Call Me By Your Name – André Aciman

I don’t know why I didn’t read this when I got it way back in January of 2016. I got it two years before it was released widely and a year before it started to pick up steam and getting mentioned during every awards season blog post ever.

I was most impressed with how true to the book the film stayed. I could visualize 90% of the film as I read the book, and the 10% I couldn’t was easy enough to fill in with the characters from the film that I barely noticed it.

What surprised me most was how I felt everyone over-looked (or maybe I completely missed it) the unrequited love in this story. I mean sure it’s a coming out coming of age bildungsroman, but overwhelmingly for me it was a tale of unrequited love. Sure Elio gets a taste of love, but can you compare the barely-there love of Oliver? Maybe Aciman is trying to pull an Austen (re: Sense and Sensibility) and show the readers the difference between young love (Elio) and mature love (not-Oliver, maybe older-Elio in the flash forward?).

“… it would finally dawn on us both that he was more me than I had ever been myself, because when he became me and I became him in bed so many years ago, he was and would forever remain, long after every forked road in life had done its work, my brother, my friend, my father, my son, my husband, my lover, myself.” (243)

There’s a dedication from Elio to Oliver, that doesn’t come across from Oliver toward Elio (in the book). And I don’t say this from the fact that he goes on and has a family, Elio has his share of lovers, it’s more the single-minded (almost obsessive) love/nostalgia for that summer/their brief relationship.

The other piece that made me stop and think about the novel was the other piece that seemed to ruffle a lot of feathers. There seemed to be a lot of controversy over the age of the characters, 17-year-old Elio and 24-year-old Oliver. I didn’t see this as much of an issue because like attracts like. Let’s talk about the fact that Elio is clearly a genius (and is written as such) and Oliver is clearly intelligent as he is a doctoral student and only 24.

Based on this Oliver has probably spent his entire life in school and has never been in the “real world” and you have to ask yourself how “mature” is he when it comes to social settings and situations. Add in that even though he did drop hints to Elio, he also actively tried to keep himself from pursuing anything with Elio.

And finally, the most touching piece of the novel was the conversation between Elio and his father. It had me in tears while watching the film and I again teared up when I read the scene in the novel.

“How you live your life is your business. But remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. Most of us can’t help but live as though we’ve got two lives to live, one is the mockup, the other the finished version, and then there are all those versions in between. But there’s only one, and before you know it, your heart is worn out, and, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now there’s sorrow. I don’t envy the pain, but I envy you the pain.” (225)

I’m right in the middle between Elio and his father (I’m guessing here), so I can totally see both sides of this: the raw excitement/thrill of a newly discovered love and the raw pain when that love is lost versus the monotonous existence of time and the comfortable ease of a long-term relationship/lifetime commitment.

Recommendation: This is an incredibly beautiful read. I could see where it would be slow for some people, but I felt the reward was worth it. I’m not sure I’ll read the newly announced sequel, but I’d probably see a film sequel if it followed up on Elio and Oliver.

Opening Line:‘Later!’ The word, the voice, the attitude.”

Closing Line: “I stopped for a second. 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.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)

Additional Quotes from Call Me By Your Name
“To think that I had almost fallen for the skin of his hands, his chest, his feet that had never touched a rough surface in their existence—and his eyes, which, when their other, kinder gaze fell on you, came like the miracle of the Resurrection.” (9)

“I could have denied so many things—that I longed to touch his knees and wrists when they glistened in the sun with that viscous sheen I’ve seen in so very few; that I loved how his white tennis shorts seemed perpetually stained by the color of clay, which, as the weeks wore on, became the color of his skin; that his hair, turning blonder every day, caught the sun before the sun was completely out in the morning; that his billowy blue shirt, becoming ever more billowy when he wore it on gusty days on the patio by the pool, promised to harbor a scent of skin and sweat that made me hard just thinking of it. All this I could have denied. And believed my denials.” (18)

“There is a law somewhere that says that when one person is thoroughly smitten with the other, the other must unavoidably be smitten as well. Amor ch’a null’amato amar perdona. Love, which exempts no one who’s loved from loving, Francesca’s words in the Inferno. Just wait and be hopeful, I was hopeful, though perhaps this was what I had wanted all along. To wait forever.” (30-31)

“It would never have occurred to him that in placing the apricot in my palm he was giving me his ass to hold or that, in biting the fruit, I was also biting into that part of his body that must have been fairer than the rest because it never apricated—and near it, if I dated to bite that far, his apricock.” (35)

“Fifteen minutes ago, I was in total agony, every nerve ending, every emotion bruised, trampled, crushed as in Mafalda’s mortar, all of it pulverized till you couldn’t tell fear from anger from the merest trickle of desire. But at that time there was something to look forward to. Now that we had laid our cards on the table, the secrecy, the shame were gone, but with them so was that dash of unspoken hope that had kept everything alive these weeks.” (75)

“It never occurred to me that I had brought him here not just to show him my little world, but to ask my little world to let him in, so that the place where I came to be alone on summer afternoons would get to know him, judge him, see if he fitted in, take him in, so that I might come back here and remember. Here I would come to escape the known world and seek another of my own invention; I was basically introducing him to my launchpad. All I had to do as list the works I read here and he’d know all the places I’d traveled to.” (77)

“People who read are hiders. They hide who they are. People who hide don’t always like who they are.” (115)

“And yet another part of me knew that if he showed up tonight and I disliked the start of whatever was in store for me, I’d still go through with it, go with it all the way, because better to find out once and for all than to spend the rest of the summer, or my life perhaps, arguing with my body.

I’d make a decision in cold blood. And if he asked, I’d tell him. I’m not sure I want to go ahead with this, but I need to know, and better with you than anyone else. I want to know your body, I want to know how you feel, I want to know you, and through you, me.” (124)

“Suddenly, I began to take mental snapshots of him, picked up the bread crumbs that fell off our table and collected them for my hideaway, and, to my shame, drew lists: the rock, the berm, the bed, the sound of the ashtray. The rock, the berm, the bed . . . I wished I were like those soldiers in films who run out of bullets and toss away their guns as though they would never have any use for them, or like runaways in the desert who, rather than ration the water in the gourd, yield to thirst and swill away, then drop their gourd in their tracks. Instead, I squirreled away small things so that in the lean days ahead glimmers from the past might bring back the warmth. I began, reluctantly, to steal from the present to pay off debts I knew I’d incur in the future. This, I knew, was as much a crime as closing the shutters on afternoons. But I also knew that in Mafalda’s superstitious world, anticipating the worst was a way of preventing it from happening.” (162-163)

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