Friday, April 20, 2007

Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?

Do I dare to eat a peach? Read Andre Aciman's Call Me By Your Name, and T. S. Eliot's line from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" will take on quite a new meaning. Aciman, who is an authority on Marcel Proust, channels the master in the telling of this romance between 24-year-old Oliver, a graduate writer, and the budding 17- year-old Elio-- son of a professor with whom Oliver is working.

The boy tells the story, albeit from the distance of decades later. In a sense, he presents a remembrance of things past, a conjuring much like Proust's of a world of sensation and sensuality, of longing and ecstasy one summer on the coast of Italy. From the sound of cicadas to the intimacy of the odor inside a recently worn bathing suit, it is a world of ultra-awareness. We are filled with this boy's exuberance, anxiety, and joy. Only in the short, final section of the book in which Elio sums up the years since that summer, does the novel lose its rapture.

Elio, as narrator, brings to mind Olivier-- the boy in Andre Gide's the Counterfeiters, who, upon attainment of his desire, wanted to die, knowing that he would never again feel such fulfillment. This magical summer on the Italian Riviera is too intense, too utopian ever to continue into less glowing seasons.
Paradoxically, their exchange is also too deep ever to disappear. To quote a poem by D.H. Lawrence,

Time will dim the moon
Sooner than our full consummation here
In this odd life will tarnish or pass away.

Such is the entwining of Elio and Oliver.

Aciman's dazzling word mastery is as powerful in the telling of this love story as it was in his acclaimed Out of Egypt. Here, in his new work, his first novel, the gay romance stands out as sublime in comparison to the heterosexual relations in the story. Aciman makes a sacred rite of this teenager's discovery of self, Eros, and love. The novel likewise provides the reader with an exquisite trip into the human psyche.

Jack Miller

Published in the July 2007 issue of  The Gay and Lesbian Review 

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