The Lover’s Dictionary

Last year a friend and I were talking about Y.A. (Young Adult) authors one morning as we waited for the bus, and I told him that I’d never really gotten into that genre beyond The Perks of Being a Wallflower and a few other beloved staples of the teenage years. “You should read David Levithan,” he said. It was mostly the way he said it—with a sudden change of tone, the near urgency—as well as my respect for his literary taste that piqued my interest in the name. “He’s a courageous writer,” he added. And he went on to tell me about The Lover’s Dictionary, which he’d just read.

Later that night I found a PDF of the novel. (I’ve since purchased my own copy.) I held my breath through most of it—I don’t know of many other books that strike the whole range of those basic chords of feeling that most of us experience at some point in life, in one way or another, perhaps many times. Specifically, it’s about the feelings we go through when we’re in love, and here we get to experience them vicariously through the story’s nameless narrator.

The story is evocative not only because its form is creative—memories filed as dictionary entries in chronological order—but also because this form suits the very nature of the story’s content; it mimics the way memories flit through time, the way they add connotative undertones to the words we use and thereby change their meanings for us. Each entry is nothing more than a peek into this relationship, a peek that oftentimes comes without context. For example, here’s the first entry:

aberrant, adj.

“I don’t normally do this kind of thing,” you said.

“Neither do I,” I assured you.

Later it turned out we had both met people online before, and we had both slept with people on first dates before, and we had both found ourselves falling too fast before. But we comforted ourselves with what we really meant to say, which was: “I don’t normally feel this good about what I’m doing.”

Measure the hope of that moment, that feeling.

Everything else will be measured against it.

Levithan’s style is straightforward but full of telling details that he uses to establish the relationship’s arc. And by avoiding flourishes like lyricism and specificities like names—which would, in this story, be distracting—the story manages to straddle the fine line between the personal and the universal, all without descending into mawkish cliché. The bottom line is that The Lover’s Dictionary is worth checking out. It’s also a refreshing anomaly to the canon of intense literature on most college syllabi.

For a summary of The Lover’s Dictionary from Barnes & Noble, click here.

Post submitted by James

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