Where to begin with this one? In anticipation for the film adaptation of Call Me By Your Name coming out later this year, I chose to read André Aciman’s novel on which it is based. Well, actually, it’s not so simple as that: I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see the film at all, for some reason that I can’t really explain. And so, for some reason, I figured that reading this book first would tell me if I wanted to see the movie? I don’t know, it doesn’t entirely make sense, but what I do know is that I did find something here: connections and feeling that I am all to familiar with, yet weren’t so overtly tragic or following the typical “coming-of-age-coming-out” formula that I’ve seen so often. It’s more than anything else, an examination of desire, and how it can affect us so deeply.
The story of Call Me By Your Name is about a young boy named Elio, and the relationship he forms with Oliver, the summer guest of his family’s home in Italy. Elio is immediately drawn to Oliver, but has difficulty expressing this as he is unsure of how Oliver feels about him: he often comes across as cold and distant, and Elio hopes to feign indifference as well, though ultimately their facades start to crack and we see the two grow close. But it’s just for the summer, so what should they make of it, if anything at all?
Overall the plot is pretty minimal here: the book is more introspective, getting all of Elio’s slightest thoughts and daydreams. This works to a great degree in really setting the tone and establishing the idea of what we desire and how we think and how it affects how we relate to others being unsure of what they are feeling as we grapple with our own. It does make certain parts feel a little sluggish, and gets pretty abstract at times, but overall this introspective feel works well. It does also lead to a lot of buildup and tension, which honestly is where the book shone for me: sure, nothing is really “happening” but we get such a close and intimate look into Elio and his desires, and you get a true sense of fear and longing. This is where we encounter such a confusing and yearning back-and-forth between Elio and Oliver: do they like each other? Do they not? Are they indifferent? It may seem like they are just willy nilly playing hot-and-cold, but it’s something that happens so often and I just really connected with the whole thing: those feelings of not being sure what to make of someone or what they make of you, so you feign like it doesn’t matter when it matters more than anything to you. Honestly, the amount of times I leaned back and groaned in pain and recognition of what was happening was a LOT reading this. I often joke with my friends about how I get so frustrated watching movies or reading books where people won’t just admit that they have feelings for each other and pine pine pine, all while I do the exact same thing and when I do actually see the people I have feelings for I just give them finger guns like “Hey there demon, it’s me, ya girl!”
Once Elio and Oliver do realize their feelings, there is still a bit of a tug-of-war in wondering if or what they should do. And honestly, them making the most of their time together is beautiful, but I did find that it ran slightly hollow with me, and I would have liked a bit more dialogue between them. Sure, there are unspoken moments, and intimacy that is so telling, but a lot of their interaction does revolve around sexual activity (I mean, I did say that desire is the main point of the novel), and this is even the case with Elio and his female friend Marzia as well. I sometimes would like, okay, now what else? That is not to say that these characters do not care for each other (in fact, Elio makes a point that in their actions he feels as though no one has ever cared for him in the same way, and they truly are intimate together), but I guess a major complaint I have about a lot of media is that it’s hyper-sexualized. Although, given the overall tone of the novel, I’m not surprised, nor is it unfitting, and that’s just a minor personal complaint. But still, I do wish there was perhaps a bit more dialogue or way for us to truly see what was going on with not just Elio, but Oliver as well, and their connection together. When they do speak, there is still something so coded in their language: they are expressing their feelings without really saying it, and they understand each other, but every now and then I don’t quite get what they are saying or getting at. It all adds to the personal and intimate mood, but I did feel out of the loop at one point or another. (Saying something without truly saying it, huh? Reading between the lines… so what did my friend really mean when he drunkenly told me he really needed me to name all of Simon & Garfunkel’s albums for him? Hmmm…)
This little dialogue almost led to what I felt like an inevitable conclusion as the summer ended. But again, that’s kind of the point of them not delving right into it: they knew from the beginning that it was just for the summer and thought maybe they shouldn’t dive in at all. They didn’t want to hurt as much and only focused on the now, not looking to the future. Would they ever really reveal their relationship to others? Likely not, given the circumstance. And so, once again, this wanting to be so close yet still holding at a distance occurs and just adds to the overall aching and yearning quality that really struck me.
At first, I was unhappy, and felt like the whole thing fell apart after all the intense and emotive buildup: and yet, thinking about it more, and coming to try and express my thoughts about it, I get it. I totally get it, and honestly this book had such a soft, but searching feeling resonated in me. I’m a sucker for romance and pining, something I wouldn’t have admitted to myself a while ago. And honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve stayed up late, knowing I should go to sleep but just wanting to take in more and more of a book, just because of what it stirred in me. And so, minor complaints aside, and after some initial hesitation and distaste for how it all played out in the end (to be fair, I once convinced myself that a book “didn’t make sense” with how it ended just because it was sad and I didn’t like how it happened), I did really enjoy this novel. And will I now see the movie? Yeah, I definitely will. Even if Armie Hammer looks older than his character, which makes the dynamic appear more skewed, and even if using a Sufjan Stevens song in the trailer is manipulative in how it pulls at my soft little heartstrings. (Actually I have his song “Eugene” stuck in my head now, so how about a title for this review along those lines?)