Wednesday, April 27, 2011
The Lover's Dictionary: A Novel by David Levithan
"I want you to spend the night," you said. And it was definitely your phrasing that ensured it. If you had said "Let's have sex," or "Let's go to my place," or even "I really want you," I'm not sure we would have gone quite as far as we did. But I loved the notion that the night was mine to spend, and I immediately decided to spend it on you.
David Levithan is so versatile--he's the founding editor of Scholastic's PUSH imprint, has mentored many new writers, has written his own highly acclaimed fiction for teens (including the groundbreaking LGBTQ Boy Meets Boy), and has now come out with this first book for the adult market, which I'm highlighting here because I think it will certainly cross over to his teen audience, particularly the older teens. The Lover's Dictionary is a love story, and despite its brevity it's a very intriguing read. Levithan constructs this relationship story out of words and their definitions, beginning with aberrant and ending with zenith. It's funny and romantic, yes, (no one does romantic quite like David Levithan) but also shadowed by anger, insecurity, betrayal. There's a lot of tenderness, but no sense of permanence. The relationship pictured is organic and fragile. I never lost the feeling that it was teetering on the edge of heartbreak, but the wordplay enherent in the form of the book lightens it considerably.
"I believe your exact words were, 'You're getting too emotional.'"
The Lover's Dictionary feels very finely crafted to me, almost poetic. Each word is carefully considered yet often has an unexpected quality. Although Levithan is very out as a queer writer, the gender of the lovers in this story is subtly handled. The narrator addresses his lover as "you", and while the narrator is male, the "you" is left ambiguous. I think this gives the story a nice sense of openness and fluidity. In the end, it's the love that's the miracle, regardless of the lover's identities.
The nape of your neck. Even the sound of the word nape sounds holy to me. That and the hollow of your neck, the peek of your chest that your shirt sometimes reveals. These are the stations of my quietest, most insistent desire.