I finally finished Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman.
I can’t say it was a real page-turner for me, which is probably why I read it over several weeks. I had read several excellent reviews and hoped that this book would live up to the expectations they engendered. (And learning how the author arrived at the title, I find it a bit contrived - I never heard of a couple using that form of endearment.)
The narrator, Elio, a precocious seventeen year-old becomes infatuated with Oliver, who is a few years older and a summer guest of Elio’s Jewish family living on the Italian Rivera. Oliver is a summer intern for Elio’s father, a professor.
So Elio and Oliver have very intellectual and esoteric conversations, that is, when they are not having coded, innuendo-laden, ambiguous exchanges that hint of homo-erotic desire. This works for a while but by the half-way point of the book has become tedious. Elio is constantly analyzing and second-guessing what it all means ad nauseam.
The reader is left guessing as well: will they or won’t they? Enough mental masturbation and teasing. I became quite impatient with Elio’s self-reflective monologues and endless rumination as well as with the prolonged cat-and-mouse game between Elio and Oliver.
I wasn’t sure who was the cat and who was the mouse or if most of it was just in Elio’s imagination until Oliver confessed to having feelings for Elio even though they both seemed to go to great lengths to avoid, not only their own feelings, but each other.
I am being much too critical here because on some level I can relate to being in Rome as a twenty year-old student and being confused about expressing my sexuality and having been infatuated with a guy that I’d said good-by to in the States - a person I’ve ruminated on and written about in my own memoir and whom I often wondered whether there was anything between us. So the story is, at its core, believable -- but perhaps more believable in 1968.
I did occasionally like the author’s style (presenting dialogue as part of Elio’s reflection or at times, as entirely hypothetical, I think) and I found many of the author's passages beautifully worded, though sometimes to a fault.
I really wanted to read a gay love story but was left disappointed with the characters’ supposed bi-sexual proclivities. I found Elio to be presented as perhaps “gayer” than Oliver, so his sexual exploits with Marzia seemed totally out of character. That, and the insinuation that Oliver was also having heterosexual encounters was a real turn-off for me. I like my men Kinsey-sixes. I guess I wasn’t surprised that Oliver eventually gets married to a woman and has a family. This is too familiar a story.
Back to when Elio and Oliver finally had sex: it was anti-climactic, not at all erotic and only minimally romantic. It was once again Elio’s thoughts, feelings and self-doubts that took the excitement out of it - it was not so much sex as thinking about having or having had sex that was most real for Elio. We never really know much about what Oliver thinks or feels.
I am fascinated with endings. Too often authors seem at a loss when it comes to tying up loose ends and ending a novel. I liked the ending of this book.
When Oliver and Elio meet twenty years later, their final two encounters seem somewhat more real and believable. But even then, both are much too young for the wisdom they seem to have acquired and Elio hasn't changed: he still wishes for Oliver to be, to say the words that would mean, everything to him.
We never know what Oliver says when he says good-bye for the last time. Hopefully it wasn’t “Later!”