Ugh, you gals, this book broke my heart.
I had a whole stack of books to write about saved up on here. December was a great reading month for me (I treated myself to my very first N.K. Jemisin experience, and it was everything everyone said it would be), and the first two books of the year were nothing to shake a stick at. But as soon as I opened Call Me By Your Name, as soon as I read the first page, I knew that I wasn’t going to write anything else until I’d talked about it.
I haven’t been this moved by a love story since A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which I read early last year and which remained one of my favourite reads of 2017. Granted, I’m a sucker for a gay love story. I’ve spent so much of my life starved for them that, even if it’s mediocre, I’m still going to devour it (likely over and over again). If it’s bad, I’ll probably still like it. If it’s good, I’ll love it. If it’s as touching and insightful and beautiful as this? Well, I’ll probably cry while finishing it on a train full of strangers and feel like a total weirdo after.
I just…it’s been a long time since I’ve felt so connected to a main character. Elio felt like me (minus the super rich, European genius thing, obviously) as a conflicted gay teenager. There were so many parts that were just so spot on. The way he moved around men that he wanted, the way that he thought about them. The way he lay awake at night seesawing between hoping that they would come to him and praying that they wouldn’t. The way he knew that his parents would accept him no matter what, but that he feared telling them or talking to them about it anyways. He dreaded that moment of hesitation from his father, that slight twitch of the face, even if he knew that what was coming afterwards was love and acceptance. There was a portion of the book where Elio is thinking about Oliver and his broad shoulders and how nice they are, when he starts to wish he had shoulders like that, and it makes him think, Do I desire to touch them, or to have them as my own? Am I admiring them just because they’re admirable, or because I want to nestle inside them, hold them, have them hold me? Is there a difference? I read that and felt like Aciman had cracked open my skull and scooped out a memory from my youth. It was the lie I told myself for years as a teenager in order to avoid confronting my gayness. I don’t want them, I want to be them. That’s the reason I had all those GQ magazines under my bed. That’s the reason my eyes always lingered where they did.
It’s a beautiful love story, but at it’s heart, for me, it’s a story about confronting oneself, of finding oneself within another, and of finding acceptance in that other person. Elio knows what he is, he spends almost none of the book trying to deny it (he’s so immediately smitten with Oliver that there’s little chance of that), but he still wrestles with it. The scene after the first time they make love, where Elio feels shame and self-disgust and doesn’t want to be around Oliver at all, I know that feeling. I remember it. Even when intellectually I’d decided that I was going to act on my feelings, that there was nothing wrong with them, there was still all this pent up, festering homophobia that I’d swallowed from my culture and environment. That was the hardest hurdle to get over, and I’ve never seen that reflected so accurately on the page before. It broke my heart, to experience another person going through something like that, but it gave me comfort too. I said this about Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad a few weeks ago and if anything it’s even more true about this: reading this book made me feel less alone about my experience of life. Not to get too cheesy on you, but that’s a rare and precious thing.
So all that is to say, this book gave me feelings. Like, a bunch of them. Probably all of them. I loved it, I still love it, and I’m probably going to reread it in like a month. So…I dunno, get on it!
Recommended for people who aren’t idiots, who have good taste in things, and who don’t want me to judge them for not having read it (because I will, and already am).
Ps. As a side note, this book was such an emotional experience for me that I didn’t really get into any of the technical aspects of it in the review. Suffice it to say, Aciman knows what he’s doing. The book is not only beautiful, but beautifully written.