“Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.” – The Lover’s Dictionary, David Levithan
I’ve just finished a new piece of romantic fiction, one that I hesitated to begin after my unsuccessful foray into the world of Sylvia Day’s novel Entwined with You (see my last blog post). I’m not sure whether to call this book a novel – it isn’t quite that at all and it’s written in the most unique and intriguing style and format! In any case, it’s entitled The Lover’s Dictionary and it’s written by young adult fiction writer David Levithan. (Sidenote: This novel is decidedly a work of adult fiction though!) It is easily one of the best books I’ve read in a long time!
If you can’t tell from the title, it’s written in the form of a dictionary, with each word defined by a moment in the nameless couple’s relationship history. This style is obviously very creative, but I never expected it to be quite so effective in eliciting such a visceral response from the reader. Yes, the narrative is very choppy because we only get the story in snippets, in little bite-size, anecdote-length, highly conversational morsels. But these tiny tidbits whet (a word I learned to use properly from the book!) the reader’s appetite more effectively than a longer narrative would, if only because the mundane becomes interesting, those cliché, much described and experienced “couple-y moments” become fascinating puzzles that need to be solved and pieced together! Love, in all its romantic glory, is expressed with a fresh lens.
And the writing, the actual narrative voice, is intoxicating! It is often difficult to tell which member of the couple is narrating, but this doesn’t seem to matter much in the end – the moments would speak for themselves and be memorable, in any voice. So many lines of the novel are poignant and rest with the reader long after that dictionary entry is read. Some of the time I didn’t even know what the actual definition of the chosen word was…but that doesn’t really matter either; it’s much more useful and beneficial and powerful to see how words can be used in real-life and how denotation gives way to connotation, to emotion and association, in every day life.
“There has to be a moment at the beginning when you wonder whether you’re in love with the person or in love with the feeling of love itself.”
“brash, adj. ‘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.”
“But no matter how I try, I still can’t write in my journal when you’re in the room. It’s not even that I’m writing about you (although often I am). I just need to know that nobody’s reading over my shoulder, about to ask me what I’m writing. I want to sequester this one part of me from everyone else. I want the act to be a secret, even if the words can only hold themselves secret for so long.” (Sidenote: Anyone who is a writer knows how relevant and realistic this particular quote is. Some acts just must remain private, even from one’s most intimate companions!)
“Even when I detach, I care. You can be separate from a thing and still care about it.”
“And still, for all the jealousy, all the doubt, sometimes I will be struck with a kind of awe that we’re together. That someone like me could find someone like you – it renders me wordless. Because surely words would conspire against such luck, would protest the unlikelihood of such a turn of events.”
“You leave the phone on beside you as you fall asleep. I sit in my bed and listen to your breathing, until I know you are safe, until I know you no longer need me for the night.”
“If this continues, if this goes on, then when I die, your memories of me will be my greatest accomplishment. Your memories will be my most lasting impression.”
There are funny moments…
“antsy, adj. I swore I would never take you to the opera again.”
“celibacy, n. n/a”
“Then, very earnestly, you stopped, leaned over, and whispered, ‘You know, I’d get a tattoo with your name on it. Only, I want you to have the freedom to change your name if you want to.’”
…and then there are tragic, unbelievably sad moments…
“aloof, adj. It has always been my habit, ever since junior high school, to ask that question: ‘What are you thinking?’ It is always an act of desperation, and I keep on asking, even though I know it will never work the way I want it to.”
“Fuck you. This isn’t about slipping yourself an extra twenty dollars of Monopoly money. These are our lives. You went and broke our lives. You are so much worse than a cheater. You killed something. And you killed it when its back was turned.”
…and the reader must piece together the chronology of the story of these two lovers. Do they end up together? Impossible to say. Are they married with 2.5 children and a white picket fence? So much suggests No, but then the overwhelming passion remains unexplained and unaccounted for. Where did it go? Did they lose it in the end? My heart wants to say No way!
I can’t really think of how else to describe this work…this post seems as disjointed as the book itself is! I’ll just say that I won’t forget this book, that I’ll always wish I wrote bits and pieces of it (Sidenote: I actually dog-eared many pages! I know this is blasphemous in some people’s opinions but I couldn’t resist!), and that if I hadn’t experienced love myself, this little text would make me long for it ardently!
I is for Incredible! It is a testament to how good Levithan’s writing is that I’ve quoted his work so much in this post.
Girl with a Green Heart