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.

1 comment:

The Veg said...

The last section was actually my least favorite part. I thought it badly written because it tried to cover so much ground after the long chapters agonizing over every (too many) details. Instead of letting me wonder what happened to the boys and the remainder of their lives, I was annoyed the author was hurriedly attempting to tie the story up with a bow. I kept thinking either the author ran out of time to finish his book or the publisher did not like his original ending.

On another note, the narrator does not say why he is sharing his memories with us. Because the story happened 20 years in the past, isn't it dangerous for the narrator to languish on every detail? If the book was set in the present, I could live in the details. If it was in the near-past, I could believe most of them. But the painstaking detail of every moment recreated after so much time has passed causes me to doubt the reliability of the narrator. I found this syle of writing unrealistic and distracting.