Call Me by Your Name – Andre Aciman

CMBYNThe narrator, Elio Perlman, now living in the United States, remembers the time when he was 17 years old in 1988 and living in Italy with his parents. It was 1988, and each summer his parents would take in an academic house guest who would live in house for six weeks, revise a book manuscript, and help his father, a professor, with his academic paperwork. Elio is not particularly thrilled with this tradition, because among other things it means he will have to give up his room for a few weeks and move to a lesser room, which he mainly remembers as the one where his grandfather died.

Oliver, the guest for the summer, is carefree and detached — a stark contrast to Elio’s introversion. Elio selected Oliver as a guest in the hopes of “instant affinities” between them and acts as his tour guide, though Elio’s attempts to impress Oliver are met with indifference. When Oliver grabs Elio’s arm after a tennis match, Elio retracts in fear. Though Elio recognizes his own bisexuality and his attraction to Oliver — he is particularly excited by his discovery that Oliver is Jewish, seeing it as a bond between them — he doubts that Oliver reciprocates his feelings.

One day, Elio sneaks into Oliver’s room, and masturbates while wearing Oliver’s swimming trunks. Later, Elio confesses his attraction to Oliver, and they kiss. When Elio touches Oliver’s penis through his clothes, Oliver pushes him away.

Oliver and Elio grow distant in the subsequent days. Elio begins an affair with Marzia, a local girl around his own age. Seeking reconciliation, Elio slips a note under Oliver’s bedroom door, with a plan to meet at midnight. At midnight, Elio enters Oliver’s room, where they have sex. Elio feels guilty about the encounter, and decides that he cannot continue his relationship with Oliver.

The next morning, Oliver wears Elio’s bathing suit to breakfast — mirroring Elio’s earlier fetishistic behavior — and later performs oral sex on Elio. Elio realizes that his attraction to Oliver persists, and that he wishes to continue their relationship. Elio visits Marzia’s house, and the two have sex; in the afternoon he masturbates with a cut peach, and ejaculates inside of it. Oliver later visits Elio’s room, eats the peach and its contents, and has penetrative sex with Elio.

Before returning to the United States, Oliver decides to spend three days in Rome, where he is accompanied by Elio. Upon returning from the trip, Elio is saddened to find that his belongings have already been returned to his original bedroom, and that all traces of Oliver’s visit have vanished. Elio has a discussion with his father, who says that he approves of the friendship (and relationship) between Elio and Oliver.

That Christmas, Oliver again visits the Perlman family, and announces that he intends to marry next summer. Oliver and Elio fall out of touch, and do not communicate with each other for many years.

Fifteen years later, Elio visits Oliver in the United States, where Oliver is now a professor. Elio is unwilling to meet Oliver’s wife and children, admitting that he still feels attraction towards Oliver and jealousy towards his new family. Oliver admits that he has followed Elio’s academic career, and shows him a framed photo of Elio he has kept over the years. During a final meeting at a bar, Elio and Oliver muse that people can lead two parallel lives — one in reality, and one a fantasy that is denied to them by external forces.

The first thing the narrator (Elio) remembers when talking about Oliver was his manner to use the word “Later” to say goodbye . For Elio it was something new, as he has never heard it before. But Oliver’s “Later” wasn’t just a simple goodbye for him. It was the sign of indifference which was unbearable for the boy, his voice, when he was saying this simple word sounded like he didn’t care about anything, he just enjoyed himself while Elio was suffering every time he heard his joyful “Later!”

Elio’s entire body was on fire because of love for Oliver. But it was not a fire of passion, but “something paralyzing, like the fire of cluster bombs”; he compares it with fire of pleading to say that he was wrong, that he has imagined the whole thing with Oliver, and he shouldn’t constantly thinking it over because there was nothing to think about. This comparison expresses the silent supplication of a boy who wants love but is afraid to speak his feelings.

Elio had noticed that Oliver’s mood can simply be read by the bathing suit he wears that day. There were four of them: “Red: bold, set in his ways, very grown up, almost gruff and ill-tempered – stay away. Yellow: sprightly, buoyant, funny – don’t give too easily. Green: acquiescent, eager to learn, eager to speak, sunny – why wasn’t he always like this? Blue: the afternoon he stepped into my room from the balcony, the day he massaged my shoulder, or when he picked up my glass and placed it back to me ” . This image helps to understand the peculiarities of the character of Oliver, his specific features.

Well, the author is a noted essayist and a professor of comparative literature and this is first novel. I love a good, romantic story but it’s no great shakes as far as style goes, as many of our group pointed out when dismissing me as an old romantic with no taste.

The location is a romantic fiction that bears no relation to anywhere real. There’s not a lot about Jewishness so why mention it if it isn’t going to be developed? And there is no mention of AIDS despite the time when this book was written.

It’s sentimental: keepsakes. ‘We found the stars, you and I. And this is given once only.’

Oliver’s language is colloquial: ‘Later’. He enjoys his fling that doesn’t want to any more, marries, becomes a lecturer and then invites Elio to meet up as if nothing had happened.

Elio is precocious, fantasises about people a long after he’s seen them, wants Oliver so much that he muses on killing him so that he couldn’t leave. He’s got it bad; rubbed his face into his bathing trunks, leaves the bedroom door open, after their first sex he thinks that if he showers he will be a traitor.

(I got a comment from another website where I’d copied this review: Thank you. I couldn’t agree more, actually. Extremely shallow and cliché-ridden. This book reads more like a bodice ripper or Harlequin romance novel than a serious novel. The Jewish identity is thrown away–never developed in any way. Elio’s parents are more of a cipher than fully developed characters. I just don’t understand how this book won all these awards and praise.)

CMBYN bkQuotations:

“I stopped for a second. If you remember everything, I wanted to say, and if you are really like me, then before you leave tomorrow, or when you’re just ready to shut the door of the taxi and have already said goodbye to everyone else and there’s not a thing left to say in this life, then, just this once, turn to me, even in jest, or as an afterthought, which would have meant everything to me when we were together, and, as you did back then, look me in the face, hold my gaze, and call me by your name”
“And on that evening when we grow older still we’ll speak about these two young men as though they were two strangers we met on the train and whom we admire and want to help along. And we’ll want to call it envy, because to call it regret would break our hearts.”

“We had the stars, you and I. And this is given once only.”
“Did I want him to act? Or would I prefer a lifetime of longing provided we both kept this little Ping-Pong game going: not knowing, not-not-knowing, not-not-not-knowing? Just be quiet, say nothing, and if you can’t say “yes,” don’t say “no,” say “later.” Is this why people say “maybe” when they mean “yes,” but hope you’ll think it’s “no” when all they really mean is, Please, just ask me once more, and once more after that?
“If I could have him like this in my dreams every night of my life, I’d stake my entire life on dreams and be done with the rest.”
“We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!”
“Everyone goes through a period of Traviamento – when we take, say, a different turn in life, the other via. Dante himself did. Some recover, some pretend to recover, some never come back, some chicken out before even starting, and some, for fear of taking any turns, find themselves leading the wrong life all life long.”
“Most of us can’t help but live as though we’ve got two lives to live, one is the mockup, the other the finished version, and then there are all those versions in between. But there’s only one, and before you know it, your heart is worn out, and, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now there’s sorrow. I don’t envy the pain. But I envy you the pain.

 

“He came. He left. Nothing else had changed. I had not changed. The world hadn’t changed. Yet nothing would be the same. All that remains is dreammaking and strange remembrance.”
“We are not written for one instrument alone; I am not, neither are you.”
“I suddenly realized that we were on borrowed time, that time is always borrowed, and that the lending agency exacts its premium precisely when we are least prepared to pay and need to borrow more…”
“People who read are hiders. They hide who they are. People who hide don’t always like who they are.”
“Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was the truth, maybe I didn’t want things to turn abstract, but I felt I should say it, because this was the moment to say it, because it suddenly dawned on me that this was why I had come, to tell him “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.”
“What I wanted to preserve was the turbulent gasp in his voice which lingered with me for days afterward and told me that, if I could have him like this in my dreams every night of my life, I’d stake my entire life on dreams and be done with the rest. (p. 109)”
“Twenty years was yesterday, and yesterday was just earlier this morning, and morning seemed light-years away.”
“Later that evening in my diary, I wrote: I was exagerrating when I said I thought you hated the piece. What I meant to say was: I thought you hated me. I was hoping you’d persuade me of the opposite—and you did, for a while. Why won’t I believe it tomorrow morning?
“You’ll kill me if you stop.”
“They are embossed on every song that was a hit that summer, in every novel I read during and after his stay, on anything from the smell of rosemary on hot days to the frantic rattle of the cicadas in the afternoon—smells and sounds I’d grown up with and known every year of my life until then but that had suddenly turned on me and acquired an inflection forever colored by the events of that summer.”
“Over the years I’d lodged him in the permanent past, my pluperfect lover, put him on ice, stuffed him with memories and mothballs like a hunted ornament confabulating with the ghost of all my evenings. I’d dust him off from time to time and then put him back on the mantelpiece. He no longer belonged to earth or to life. All I was likely to discover at this point wasn’t just how distant were the paths we’d taken, it was the measure of loss that was going to strike me–a loss I didn’t mind thinking about in abstract terms but which would hurt when stared at in the face, the way nostalgia hurts long after we’ve stopped thinking of things we lost and may never have cared for.”
“What is life without this? which was why, in the end, it was I, and not her, who blurted out, not once, but many, many times, You’ll kill me if you stop, you’ll kill me if you stop, because it was also my way of bringing full circle the dream and the fantasy, me and him, the longed-for words from mouth to mouth, which was when I must have begun using obscenities that he repeated after me, softly at first, till he said, “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by my name,” which I’d never done in my life before and which, as soon as I said my own name as though it were his, took me to a realm I never shared with anyone in my life before, or since.”
“Every time I go back to Rome, I go back to that one spot. It is still alive for me, still resounds with something totally present, as though a heart stolen from a tale by Poe still throbbed under the ancient slate pavement to remind me that, here, I had finally encountered the life that was right for me but had failed to have.”
“Is it better to speak or die?”
“Look,” he interrupted. “You had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you. In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough. But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!”
“At one hundred, surely you learn to overcome loss and grief—or do they hound you till the bitter end?”
“Whoever said the soul and the body met in the pineal gland was a fool. It’s the asshole, stupid.”
“How you live your life is your business. But remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. Most of us can’t help but live as though we’ve got two lives to live, one is the mockup, the other the finished version, and then there are all those versions in between. But there’s only one, and before you know it, your heart is worn out, and, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now there’s sorrow. I don’t envy the pain. But I envy you the pain.”
“What is life without this? which was why, in the end, it was I, and not he, who blurted out, not once, but many, many times, You’ll kill me if you stop, because it was also my way of bringing full circle the dream and the fantasy, me and him, the longed-for words from his mouth to my mouth back into his mouth, swapping words from mouth to mouth, which was when I must have begun using obscenities that he repeated after me, softly at first, till he said, “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine” …”
“I’m not wise at all. I told you, I know nothing. I know books, and I know how to string words together–it doesn’t mean I know how to speak about the tings that matter most to me.”

“But you’re doing it now–in a way.”

“Yes, in a way–that’s how I always say things: in a way.”
“Or are “being” and “having” thoroughly inaccurate verbs in the twisted skein of desire, where having someone’s body to touch and being that someone we’re longing to touch are one and the same, just opposite banks on a river that passes from us to them, back to us and over to them again in this perpetual circuit where the chambers of the heart, like the trapdoors of desire, and the wormholes of time, and the false-bottomed drawer we call identity share a beguiling logic according to which the shortest distance between real life and the life unlived, between who we are and what we want, is a twisted staircase designed with the impish cruelty of M. C. Escher.”
“I wanted him dead too, so that if I couldn’t stop thinking about him and worrying about when would be the next time I’d see him, at least his death would put an end to it. I wanted to kill him myself, even, so as to let him know how much his mere existence had come to bother me, how unbearable his ease with everything and everyone, taking all things in stride, his tireless I’m-okay-with-this-and-that, his springing across the gate to the beach when everyone else opened the latch first, to say nothing of his bathings suits, his spot in paradise, his cheeky Later!, his lip-smacking love for apricot juice. If I didn’t kill him, then I’d cripple him for life, so that he’d be with us in a wheelchair and never go back to the States. If he were in a wheelchair, I would always know where he was, and he’d be easy to find. I would feel superior to him and become his master, now that he was crippled.

Then it hit me that I could have killed myself instead, or hurt myself badly enough and let him know why I’d done it. If I hurt my face, I’d want him to look at me and wonder why, why might anyone do this to himself, until, years and years later–yes, Later!–he’d finally piece the puzzle together and beat his head against the wall.”
“I wanted to hear his window open, hear his espadrilles on the balcony, and then the sound of my own window, which was never locked, being pushed open as he’d step into my room after everyone had gone to bed, slip under my covers, undress me without asking, and after making me want him more than I thought I could ever want another living soul, gently, softly, and, with the kindness one Jew extends to another, work his way into my body, gently and softly, after heeding the words I’d been rehearsing for days now, Please, don’t hurt me, which meant, Hurt me all you want.”
“Let’s go now.” He extended his hand to help me get up. I grabbed it and, turning on my side facing the wall away from him to prevent him from seeing me, I asked, “Must we?” This was the closest I would ever come to saying, Stay. Just stay with me.”
“Do you really like to read that much?” she asked as we ambled our way casually in the dark toward the piazzetta. I looked at her as if she had asked me if I loved music, or bread and salted butter, or ripe fruit in the summertime. “Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “I like to read too. But I don’t tell anyone.” At last, I thought, someone who speaks the truth. I asked her why she didn’t tell anyone. “I don’t know…” This was more her way of asking for time to think or to hedge before answering, “People who read are hiders. They hide who they are. People who hide don’t always like who they are.” “Do you hide who you are?” “Sometimes. Don’t you?” “Do I? I suppose.”
“Something unexpected seemed to clear away between us, and, for a second, it seemed there was absolutely no difference in age between us, just two men kissing, and even this seemed to dissolve, as I began to feel we were not even two men, just two beings.”
“Then I thought of the drive back, late at night, along the starlit river to this rickety antique New England hotel on a shoreline that I hoped would remind us both of the bay of B., and of Van Gogh’s starry nights, and of the night I joined him on the rock and kissed him on the neck, and of the last night when we walked together on the coast road, sensing we’d run out of last-minute miracles to put off his leaving. I imagined being in his car asking myself, Who knows, would I want to, would he want to, perhaps a nightcap at the bar would decide, knowing that, all through dinner that evening, he and I would be worrying about the same exact thing, hoping it might happen, praying it might not, perhaps a nightcap would decide – I could just read it on his face as I pictured him looking away while uncorking a bottle of wine or while changing the music, because he too would catch the thought racing through my mind and want me to know he was debating the exact same thing, because, as he’d pour the wine for his wife, for me, for himself, it would finally dawn on us both that he was more me than I had ever been myself, because when he became me and I became him in bed so many years ago, he was and would forever remain, long after every forked road in life had done its work, my brother, my friend, my father, my son, my husband, my lover, myself. In the weeks we’d been thrown together that summer, our lives had scarcely touched, but we had crossed to the other bank, where time stops and heaven reaches down to earth and gives us that ration of what is from birth divinely ours. We looked the other way. We spoke of everything but. But we’ve always known, and not saying anything now confirmed it all the more. We had found the stars, you and I. And this is given once only.”
“I believe with every cell in my body that every cell in yours must not, must never, die, and if it does have to die, let it die inside my body.”
“Do I like you?’ I wanted to sound incredulous, as though to question how he could ever have doubted such a thing. But then I thought better of it and was on the point of softening the tone of my answer with a meaning-fully evasive Perhaps that was supposed to mean Abso-lutely, when I let my tongue loose: ‘Do I like you, Oliver? I worship you.”
“It never occurred to me that I had brought him here not just to show him my little world, but to ask my little world to let him in, so that the place where I came to be alone on summer afternoons would get to know him, judge him, see if he fitted in, take him in, so that I might come back here and remember. Here I would come to escape the known world and seek another of my own invention; I was basically introducing him to my launchpad.”
“If there is any truth in the world, it lies when I’m with you, and if I find the courage to speak my truth to you one day, remind me to light a candle in thanksgiving at every altar in Rome.”
“I’m not sure I want to go ahead with this, but I need to know, and better with you than anyone else. I want to know your body, I want to know how you feel, I want to know you, and through you, me.”
“If he knew, if he only knew that I was giving him every chance to put two and two together and come up with a number bigger than infinity.”
“There is a law somewhere that says that when one person is thoroughly smitten with the other, the other must unavoidably be smitten as well. Amor ch’a null’amato amar perdona. Love, which exempts no one who’s loved from loving, Francesca’s words in the Inferno. Just wait and be hopeful. I was hopeful, though perhaps this was what I had wanted all along. To wait forever. ”
“It would never have occurred to him that in placing the apricot in my palm he was giving me his ass to hold or that, in biting the fruit, I was also biting into that part of his body that must have been fairer than the rest because it never apricates – and near it, if I dared to bite that far, his apricock.”
“I was going for the devious smile that would suddenly light up his face each time he’d read my mind, when all I really wanted was skin, just skin.”
“Does the presence of the other, who yesterday morning felt almost like and intruder, become ever more necessary because it shields us from our own hell–so that the very person who causes our torment by daybreak is the same who’ll relieve it at night?”
“I can, from the distance of years now, still think I’m hearing the voices of two young men singing these words in Neapolitan toward daybreak, neither realizing, as they held each other and kissed again and again on the dark lanes of old Rome, that this was the last night they would ever make love again. “Tomorrow let’s go to San Clemente,” I said. “Tomorrow is today,” he replied.”
“If there is any truth in the world, it lies when I’m with you.”
“I couldn’t understand how boldness and sorrow, how you’re so hard and do you really care for me? could be so thoroughly bound together. Nor could I begin to fathom how someone so seemingly vulnerable, hesitant, and eager to confide so many uncertainties about herself could, with one and the same gesture, reach into my pants with unabashed recklessness and hold on to my cock and squeeze it.”
“Just take me and molt me and turn me inside out, till, like a character in Ovid, I become one with your lust, that’s what I wanted. Give me a blindfold, hold my hand, and don’t ask me to think—will you do that for me?”
“In the weeks we’d been thrown together that summer, our lives had scarcely touched, but we had crossed to the other bank, where time stops and heaven reaches down to earth and gives us that ration of what is from birth divinely ours. We looked the other way. We spoke about everything but. But we’ve always known, and not saying anything now confirmed it all the more. We had found the stars, you and I. And this is given once only.”
“The light of my eyes, I said, light of my eyes, light of the world, that’s what you are, light of my life. I didn’t know what light of my eyes meant, and part of me wondered where on earth had I fished out such claptrap, but it was nonsense like this that brought tears now, tears I wished to down in his pillow, soak in his bathing suit, tears I wanted him to touch with the tip of his tongue and make sorrow go away.”
“I stopped for a second. If you remember everything, I wanted to say, and if you are really like me, then before you leave tomorrow, or when you’re just ready to shut the door of the taxi and have already said goodbye to everyone else and there’s not a thing left to say in this life, then, just this once, turn to me, even in just, or as an afterthought, which would have meant everything to me when we were together, and, as you did back then, look me in the face, hold my gaze, and call me by your name.”
“How I admired people who talked about their vices as though they were distant relatives they’d learn to put up with because they couldn’t quite disown them.”
“Oliver liked to keep the windows and shutters wide open in the afternoon, with just the swelling sheer curtains between us and life beyond, because it was a ‘crime’ to block away so much sunlight and keep such a landscape from view, especially when you didn’t have it all life long, he said. Then the rolling fields of the valley leading up to the hills seemed to sit in a rising mist of olive green: sunflowers, grapevines, swatches of lavender, and those squat and humble olive trees stooping like gnarled, aged scarecrows gawking through our window as we lay naked on my bed, the smell of his sweat, which was the smell of my sweat, and next to me my man-woman whose man-woman I was, and all around us Mafalda’s chamomile-scented laundry detergent, which was the torrid afternoon world of our house.”
“Do with me what you want. Take me. Just ask if I want to and see the answer you’ll get, just don’t let me say no. And”
“We had never taken a shower together. We had never even been in the same bathroom together. “Don’t flush,” I’d said, “I want to look.” What I saw brought out strains of compassion, for him, for his body, for his life, which suddenly seemed so frail and vulnerable. “Our bodies won’t have secrets now,” I said as I took my turn and sat down. He had hopped into the bathtub and was just about to turn on the shower. “I want you to see mine,” I said. He did more. He stepped out, kissed me on the mouth, and, pressing and massaging my tummy with the flat of his hand, watched the whole thing happen.”
“Think of the pain before the pain.”
“Oh, Oliver, I said to myself on my way to the kitchen for a quick bite to eat, I’ll do anything for you. I’ll ride up the hill with you, and I’ll race you up the road to town, and won’t point out the sea when we reach the berm, and I’ll wait at the bar in the piazzetta while you meet with your translator, and I’ll touch the memorial to the unknown soldier who died on the Piave, and I won’t utter a word, I’ll show you the way to the bookstore, and we’ll park our bikes outside the shop and go in together and leave together, and I promise, I promise, I promise, there’ll be no hint of Shelley, or Monet, nor will I ever stoop to tell you that two nights ago you added an annual ring to my soul.”
“You could have had this instead. But going back is false. Moving ahead is false. Looking the other way is false. Trying to redress all that is false turns out to be just as false. ”
“Amor ch’a null’amato amar perdona. Love, which exempts no one who’s loved from loving, Francesca”
“What did one do around here?
Nothing. Wait for summer to end.
What did one do in the winter, then?
I smiled at the answer I was about to give. He got the gist and said, ‘Don’t tell me: wait for summer to come, right?”
“I looked away, because he was staring at me, and I knew I was flushed, and I knew I’d made a face, though I still wanted him to stare at me even if it embarrassed me, and I wanted to keep staring at him too…”
“This was a time when I intentionally failed to drop bread crumbs for my return journey; instead, I ate them.”
“How is it that some people go through hell trying to get close to you, while you haven’t the haziest notion and don’t even give them a thought when two weeks go by and you haven’t so much as exchanged a single word between you? Did he have any idea? Should I let him know?”
“…you and I , when the night is spread out against the sky, and read stories of restless people who always end up alone and hate being alone because it’s always themselves they can’t stand being alone with…”
“This was the best person I’d ever known in my life. I had chosen him well.”
“On the train I told him about the day we thought he’d drowned and how I was determined to ask my father to round up as many fishermen as he could to go look for him, and when they found him, to light a pyre on our shore, while I grabbed Mafalda’s knife from the kitchen and ripped out his heart, because that heart and his shirt were all I’d ever have to show for my life. A heart and a shirt. His heart wrapped in a damp shirt – like Anchise’s fish.”
“I wanted him dead too, so that if I couldn’t stop thinking about him and worrying about when would be the next time I’d see him, at least his death would put an end to it.”
“As I sat there working on transcriptions at my round table in the morning, what I would have settled for was not his friendship, not anything. Just to look up and find him there, suntan lotion, straw hat, red bathing suit, lemonade. To look up and find you there, Oliver. For the day will come soon enough when I’ll look up and you’ll no longer be there.”
“I suddenly realized that we were on borrowed time, that time is always borrowed, and that the lending agency exacts its premium precisely when we are least prepared to pay and need to borrow more.”
“Was our intimacy paid for in the wrong currency? Or is intimacy the desired product no matter where you find it, how you acquire it, what you pay for it, black market, grey market, taxed, untaxed, under the table, over the counter.”
“Do I like you?’ I wanted to sound incredulous, as though to question how he could ever have doubted such a thing. But then I thought better of it and was on the point of softening the tone of my answer with a meaningfully evasive Perhaps that was supposed to mean Absolutely, when I let my tongue loose: ‘Do I like you, Oliver? I worship you.”
“I took a sip from my second martini, feeling as decadent as one of those jazz piano players who smoke a lot and drink a lot and are found dead in a gutter at the end of every film.”
“I began reluctantly to steal from the present to pay off debts I knew I’d incur in the future.”
“In your place, if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything — what a waste!”
“I didn’t know what I was afraid of, nor why I worried so much, nor why this thing that could so easily cause panic felt like hope sometimes and, like hope in the darkest moments, brought such joy, unreal joy, joy with a noose tied around it.”
“The thud my heart gave when I saw him unannounced both terrified and thrilled me. I was afraid when he showed up, afraid when he failed to, afraid when he looked at me, more frightened yet when he didn’t.”
“We belonged to each other, but had lived so far apart that we belonged to others now.”
“We were not conspicuous Jews. We wore our Judaism as people do almost everywhere in the world: under the shirt, not hidden, but tucked away.”
“Everyone goes through a period of traviamento— when we take, say, a different turn in life, the other via. Dante himself did. Some recover, some pretend to recover, some never come back, some chicken out before even starting, and some, for fear of taking any turns, find themselves leading the wrong life all life long.”
“Shame cast long shadows”
“On my way up the staircase, I tried to imagine myself coming down this very same staircase tomorrow morning. By then I might be someone else. Did I even like this someone else whom I didn’t yet know and who might not want to say good morning then or have anything to do with me for having brought him to this pass? Or would I remain the exact same person walking up this staircase, with nothing about me changed, and not one of my doubts resolved?”
“And yet, about two weeks after his arrival, all I wanted every night was for him to leave his room, not via its front door, but through the French windows on our balcony. I wanted to hear his window open, hear his espadrilles on the balcony, and then the sound of my own window, which was never locked, being pushed open as he’d step into my room after everyone had gone to bed, slip under my covers, undress me without asking, and after making me want him more than I thought I could ever want another living soul, gently, softly, and, with the kindness one Jew extends to another, work his way into my body, gently and softly, after heeding the words I’d been rehearsing for days now, Please, don’t hurt me, which meant, Hurt me all you want.”
“To me those hours spent at that round wooden table in our garden with the large umbrella imperfectly shading my papers, the chinking of our iced lemonades, the sound of the not-too-distant surf gently lapping the giant rocks below, and in the background, from some neighboring house, the muffled crackle of the hit parade medley on perpetual replay—all these are forever impressed on those mornings when all I prayed for was for time to stop. Let summer never end, let him never go away, let the music on perpetual replay play forever, I’m asking for very little, and I swear I’ll ask for nothing more.”
“Today, the pain, the stoking, the thrill of someone new, the promise of so much bliss hovering a fingertip away, the fumbling around people I might have misread and don’t want to lose and must second-guess at every turn, the desperate cunning I bring to everyone I want and crave to be wanted by, the screens I put up as though between me and the world there were not just one but layers of rice-paper sliding doors, the urge to scramble and unscramble what was never really coded in the first place – all these started the summer Oliver came into our house. They are embossed on every song that was a hit that summer, in every novel I read during and after his stay, on anything from the smell of rosemary on hot days to the frantic rattle of the cicadas in the afternoon – smells and sounds I’d grown up with and known every year of my life until then but that had suddenly turned on me and acquired an inflection forever colored by the events of that summer.”
“It never occurred to me that what had totally panicked me when he touched me was exactly what startles virgins on being touched for the very first time by the person they desire: he stirs nerves in them they never knew existed and that produce far, far more disturbing pleasures than they are used to on their own.”
“And why wouldn’t I show him how like butter I was? Because I was afraid of what might happen then? Or was I afraid he would have laughed at me, told everyone, or ignored the whole thing on the pretext I was too young to know what I was doing? Or was it because if he so much as suspected – and anyone who suspected would of necessity be on the same wavelength – he might be tempted to act on it? Did I want him to act? Or would I prefer a lifetime of longing provided we both kept this little Ping-Pong game going: not knowing, not-not knowing, not-not-not knowing? Just be quiet, say nothing, and if you can’t say ‘yes,’ don’t say ‘no,’ say ‘later.’ Is this why people say ‘maybe’ when they mean ‘yes,’ but hope you’ll think it’s a ‘no’ when all they really mean is, Please, just ask me once more, and once more after that?”
“I’m not wise at all. I told you, I know nothing. I know books, and I know how to string words together—it doesn’t mean I know how to speak about the things that matter most to me.”
“Fear not. It will come. At least I hope it does. And when you least expect it. Nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spot.”
“It never occurred to me that I had brought him here not just to show him my little world, but to ask my little world to let him in, so that the place where I came to be alone on summer afternoons would get to know him, judge him, see if he fitted in, take him in, so that I might come back here and remember.”
“He was my secret conduit to myself—like a catalyst that allows us to become who we are, the foreign body, the pacer, the graft, the patch that sends all the right impulses, the steel pin that keeps a soldier’s bone together, the other man’s heart that makes us more us than we were before the transplant.”
“But remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. Most”
“I wish I knew how to calibrate my kiss the way he did but passion allows us to hide more.”
“There are easy ways to bring back summer in the snowstorm”
“But I was in heaven. That he hadn’t forgotten our conversation about Celan gave me a shot of tonic I hadn’t experienced in many, many days. It spilled over everything I touched. Just a word, a gaze, and I was in heaven. To be happy like this maybe wasn’t so difficult after all. All I had to do was find the source of happiness in me and not rely on others to supply it the next time.”
“When it comes to the senses all humans speak the same beastly tongue”
“Did I want him to act? Or would I prefer a lifetime of longing provided we both kept this little Ping-Pong game going: not knowing, not-not knowing, not-notnot knowing?”
“Our bodies won’t have secrets now.”
“How you live your life is your business. But remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. Most of us can’t help but live as though we’ve got two lives to live, one is the mockup, the other the finished version, and then there are all those versions in between. But there’s only one, and before you know it, your heart is worn out, and, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it.”
“Don’t let him be someone else when he’s away. Don’t let him be someone I’ve never seen before. Don’t let him have a life other than the life I know he has with us, with me.”
“I liked it when our feet were aligned, left with left, and struck the ground at the same time, leaving footprints on the shore that I wished to return to and, in secret, place my foot where his had left its mark.”

“I didn’t want to swim in the lovely, clear pool of his eyes unless I’d been invited to—and I never waited long enough to know whether I was even wanted there; look away because I was too scared to stare anyone back; look away because I didn’t want to give anything away;”
“Wanting to test desire is nothing more than a ruse to get what we want without admitting that we want it.”
“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. Sometimes I have this awful picture of waking up in our house in B. and, looking out to the sea, hearing the news from the waves themselves, He died last night. We missed out on so much. It was a coma. Tomorrow I go back to my coma, and you to yours.”
“Perhaps the very least I wanted was for him to tell me that there was nothing wrong with me, that I was no less human than any other young man my age. I would have been satisfied and asked for nothing else than if he’d bent down and picked up the dignity I could so effortlessly have thrown at his feet.”

All that remains is dreammaking and strange remembrance.

It’s now a film.

 You  can read it online here

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1 Comment »

  1. […] do a group ‘outing’ may of us saw this  separately and discussed it recently. The book wasn’t popular with […]

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