Last time I told you about a book that my husband and I discovered in a bookstore together. Now I’d like to tell you about one of the first books he recommended to me when we first met and started dating. I’m always curious about the books people like enough to recommend to others. It’s a good way to get to know a person because what they read (and really like) is a window into who they are. For the same reason, I’m always extremely interested by what’s on a person’s bookshelves when I get into their house for the first time. Not in a judgey way, just because I like to see what they enjoy. Well, needless to say, Joel made quite a good impression with this recommendation. Like Full Circle, it’s a book that I love to tell people about myself these days. Also like Full Circle, not many people have heard of it. Which is a serious shame. Both books deserve to be discovered, enjoyed, and shared in my opinion. If you like André Aciman, his memoir Out of Egypt is supposed to be phenomenal. I haven’t read that but it is on my massive to-read list. Instead, I tried a different novel of his, Eight White Nights, which has the magical style of this book … unfortunately minus a lot of the charm, for me. If you’re looking for LGBT books specifically, none of his other books that I know of feature gay characters. But this novel is not one to miss–not just because of the LGBT angle, mind you, but because it’s a gorgeously written, heartfelt work.
Oh, and you’ll never be able to look at a peach the same way again once you’ve read this book. Not even kidding.
“Between always and never.”
Here we have a rather intense exploration of desire and passion masquerading as a coming of age story. Conflating the two tropes actually works quite well: at what point in life are one’s passions so inflamed as during the burning years of adolescence? When one first dips a toe into the waters of sexuality, then recklessly dives in? I’m mixing metaphors, but you get the point. This is desire of the all-consuming variety. The kind that leads you to desperately attempt to blur the line between where you end and the other person begins (hence the title). The places it goes may be a little weird (perhaps too strange for some readers) but the power of the journey is undeniable. The ultimate message (that that line can never really be bridged) is rendered with beauty, heartbreak, and a hint of tragedy.
It is the mid-80s. Elio is the seventeen year-old son of an esteemed academic who spends summers on the Italian Riviera. It is there that twenty-four year Oliver comes into his life. A post-doc teaching at Columbia University, Oliver has come to work on a manuscript about Heraclitus (natch) with the kind guidance of Elio’s father. It doesn’t take long for Elio to develop an unexpected crush on their houseguest. Crush is actually an understatement. This is nothing less than unbridled passion: a hot, all-consuming fire that Elio is powerless to fight. Wondering whether or not Oliver feels the same way is torture. Like, physically painful. “I’d lie on my bed wearing only my bathing suit, my entire body on fire. Fire like a pleading that says, Please, please, tell me I’m wrong, tell me I’ve imagined all this, because it can’t possibly be true for you as well, and if it’s true for you too, then you’re the cruelest man alive.”
It turns out Oliver does feel the same way, and the two begin a torrid affair that plays out like a fever dream. Even the relatively mundane moments in their interaction have a heightened heat, a throbbing tension that only escalates Elio’s desire. Each moment they are together feels “like coming home, like asking, Where have I been all my life?” Of course, it won’t last, but not because of any cliched melodrama. There is no betrayal, no obstacle arranged by an outside party. Passion that strong is destined to lose its intensity, Aciman seems to say, but never its power. Years later, when Elio recounts this story for us, he will still feel flush with desire all over again. In that sense, the summer Elio and Oliver share will last eternally. It will forever link them. Even if they aren’t together, the power of memory will reunite them. in this sense, Call Me By Your Name is almost an elegy for a moment in time that simultaneously was never meant to last, yet lives on eternally.
For more LGBT book recommendations visit my LGBT Books page.