Andre Aciman says more about love, passion, desire, sorrow and loss in only 248 pages in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME-- the story lives up to everything the beautiful title suggests-- than seems humanly possible. Elio, a precocious seventeen-year-old, falls hopeless, totally for Oliver, a twenty-four-year old from Columbia University who comes to stay with Elio's family for six weeks in an idyllic Italian sun-drenched summer. We see the events as they unfold through the eyes of the narrator Elio who is beautiful, bright, sexy and full of reckless abandon as only the very young can be. His and Oliver's story is universal and as old as civilization itself. None of us will ever forgot our first lover when his absence was unbearable but his presence was frightening and all-consuming.
It is impossible to do justice to this book as it is almost an extended poem. Like all poetry, it can survive dissection, but the least said about it, the better. A word to the reader, however: Beware. You will care desperately about these two men as well as other well-drawn characaters, particularly Elio's father, who is so gentle, so kind, so intuitive, such a wise parent and the tragic Vimini, who is ten years old at the beginning of the novel that covers a span of twenty years.
Mr. Aciman's beautiful prose is both poetic and profound: Words get turned around, turned in on themselves, used again in a different setting or context. Elio's quotation of Shelley's friends words, "heart of hearts," as he seized the dead poet's heart out of his body as he was being cremated, turns up again near the end of the novel as an inscription on a post card that Oliver ["'I've never said anything truer in my life to anyone'"] hopes his son will one day bring to Elio. Elio on Oliver: "You are my homecoming." "I look back on those days and regret none of it, not the risks, not the shame, nor the total lack of foresight." Finally his words to Oliver near the end of the novel: "'You are the only person I'd like to say goodbye to when I die, because only then will this thing I call my life make any sense. And if I should hear that you died, my life as I know it, the me who is speaking with you now, will cease to exist.'"
Mr. Aciman's descriptions of these two men's lovemaking is as torrid as the Italian sun; what these men do with a ripe peach is as erotic as anything D. H. Lawrence every wrote. Like all great literature, this novel will remind you of other fine fiction: for example, James Joyce's long short story about tragic lost young love, "The Dead," as well as Annie Proulx's more recent and much praised "Brokeback Mountain."
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is one of the rarest of novels. You are at once so caught up in its drama that you race through it but hope it will never end since you fear that these two characters whom you care about so deeply will not grow old together.
Novels like this one never go out of style.