When it’s going well, the fact of it is everywhere. It’s there in the song that shuffles into your ears. It’s there in the book you’re reading. It’s there on the shelves of the store as you reach for a towel and forget about the towel. It’s there as you open the door. As you stare off into the subway, it’s what you’re looking at. You wear it on the inside of your hat. It lines your pockets. It’s the temperature.
The hitch, of course, it that when it’s going badly, it’s in all the same places.”
The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan is just that – an exploration of love relationships of the romantic kind, for better or for worse. Though billed as a novel, it reads more like a collection of poems in the format of dictionary entries. There is a story about a nameless main character and his significant other, who could be a he or a she, but the book is less about their individual relationship and more about the nature of all relationships in the modern world, from the mundane progression and determination of meeting, dating, and moving in together to the profound, universal, yet unique feelings of attachment and commitment experienced when you’re in love. Instead of moving chronologically, snapshots of the middle, beginning, and end are sprinkled throughout the alphabetical entries. Like the recent film 500 Days of Summer, as you read The Lover’s Dictionary you’ll have an idea of where the narrator’s at times smooth and rocky relationship is going before you know how it began. Because of this skipping order and the vague identities of the lovers it lacks the plot suspense and character development of a traditional novel. Still, it offers some suspense in when and how the clues of what went right and what went wrong are dropped. However, Levithan’s first adult novel shines the brightest in those entries which muse upon what is means to love and be loved. My favorite entries were those which broke down the definition of a word and how that word relates and brings new insight to our perception of love. A favorite entry and standout definition for the novel itself:
Oh, how I hated this word. So pretentious, like it was always being translated from the French. The tint and taint of illicit, illegitimate affections. Dictionary meaning: a person having a love affair. Impermanent. Unfamilial. Inextricably linked to sex.
I have never wanted a lover. In order to have a lover, I must go back to the root of the word. For I have never wanted a lover, but I have always wanted to love, and to be loved.
There is no word for the recipient of the love. There is only a word for the giver. There is the assumption that lovers come in pairs.
When I say, Be my lover, I don’t mean, Let’s have an affair. I don’t mean, Sleep with me. I don’t mean, Be my secret.
I want us to go back down to that root.
I want you to be the one who loves me.
I want to be the one who loves you.”
If you love words, there are several other entries like this which parse a word in order to shed hidden and lost meaning to an otherwise common, everyday word. Though I didn’t enjoy the format as much as a full-length novel – the timely specifics of the modern, no name couple’s relationship resulted in an impersonal feel – I appreciated the original, creative idea behind it and Levithan’s inspired writing. Though short in length it’s something to mull over, go back, and reread rather than cruise through. Some of the more thought-provoking entries will stick with me and have changed how I think about a particular word. The Lover’s Dictionary is my first read by Levithan and a great introduction to his writing. Fans of his work will devour it. Now I just need to decide which of his books I’ll be reading next.
And now for the giveaway! All you need to do is leave a comment telling me the title of your favorite novel by David Levithan and why I should read it, OR if you haven’t read anything by Levithan tell me why you want to read The Lover’s Dictionary as well as a way to contact you. Followers get +2 entries and new followers get +1 entry. Open to U.S. and Canada residents until 12:00 a.m. MST on March 28.