Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Elio as narrator

As I said at the meeting, I read Call Me by Your Name eighteen months ago. It had been given to me by my X, ever vicariously nostalgic for my high-school romance. I enjoyed reading it but thought it most interesting and memorable for its last section, the coda. It was only this I reread before the meeting, not feeling the urge to revisit the main story and wanting to wait and hear what others had to say about it.

Though almost everyone at our meeting liked it, many seemed to have vague reservations, something along the lines of the whole failing to be more than the sum of its parts, or even of not clearly adding up at all. In rereading the penultimate third section I'm inclined to agree.

I mentioned at the meeting that it is not merely Elio's story, it is told in Elio's voice, and that we shouldn't simply fault Aciman for details Elio chooses not to tell us, such as what he's been doing the last twenty years, what his present occupational status is, etc (even less so his failure to rhapsodize on the beauties of Liguria).

I had noted in my first reading that the first night in Rome is the last time Oliver and Elio "make love" (the passionate, public kiss on the via Stanta Maria dell' Anima) but had failed to appreciate, until somebody mentioned it, how bizarre it is that nothing further is said about this in the remainder of the book. What does it say about Elio and his experience, his story, that he relates nothing about their last two days in Rome?

Much of Elio's silence(s) may speak volumes about him but I have lost faith in Aciman that this is artistically conceived. It's either a cheap trick at dimension, a failure of imagination, or meer authorial laziness. In any event, for all the intriguing silences in Elio's narrative, I'm inclined to feel now that it doesn't add up and that the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

I'm even beginning to have darker feelings about this novel being deeply (cheaply?) exploitative of gay experience in the guise of a romance for straight (women?) readers and gay (romantic?) men.

Nevertheless, it's well-written (though Steve may yet reveal how mistaken we all are in this view) and thought provoking, and I'm sure that in the fullness of time—even perhaps in the foolness that remains of my life—I will spend another summer on the Italian Riviera.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Votes Are In!

Fall 2008-Spring 2009 Bookmen DC Reading List

9/17 Between Men: Best New Gay Fiction, pp. 163-250
10/1 A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
10/15 Men of Mystery, pp. 117-184
11/5 Dude, You’re a Fag by C.J. Pascoe
11/19 Freedom in this Village, pp. 255-330
12/3 Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
12/17 Between Men, pp. 251-330


1/7 Mississippi Sissy by Kevin Sessums
1/21 Men of Mystery, pp. 185-275
2/4 Gay New York by George Chauncey
2/18 Freedom in this Village, pp. 331-444
3/4 The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead by William Burroughs
3/18 The Man with Night Sweats by Thom Gunn
4/1 Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima
4/15 The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Great discussion of "Call Me by Your Name"!

Greetings, Colleagues--

Ten valiant Bookmen, a near-record turnout, gathered last night (9/3/08) to discuss Andre Aciman's novel "Call Me by Your Name." There was clearly a wide range of reactions to the work, but I think it would be safe to say that we all found it well worth reading and enjoyed a particularly lively discussion.

As someone who was less impressed by the novel than most of those present (though I did enjoy it), I have been challenged by a fellow reader to cite some passages that I found memorably infelicitous (so bad they're good? :-). I want to take a little time to sort through the many worthy contenders for that distinction before posting a few; but first, in the spirit of fair play, let me share a passage from the final few pages that I thought was truly wonderful:

"I tried to picture his happy family, boys immersed in homework, or lumbering back from late practice, surly, ill-tempered thumping with muddied boots, every cliche racing through my mind. This is the man whose house I stayed in when I lived in Italy, he'd say, followed by grumphy harrumphs from two adolescents who couldn't be bothered by the man from Italy or the house in Italy, but who'd reel in shock if told, Oh, and by the way, this man who was almost your age back then and who spent most of his days quietly transcribing The Seven Last Words of Christ each morning would sneak into my room at night and we'd fuck our brains out. So shake hands and be nice." (p. 243)

Other than correcting "bothered by" to "bothered with," I wouldn't change a word. :-)

Cheers, Steve