Friday, October 7, 2011

The Lover's Dictionary

By David Levithan

Four Things I Liked About The Lover’s Dictionary:
1. Concept
2. Word choice (of the entries)
3. Style
4. Ambiguous narrator

I haven’t loved David Levithan’s books in the past – they’re a bit too over-the-top for my taste – so I tend to shy away from them, but The Lover’s Dictionary caught my attention. First of all, look at that cover. Pretty, right? It’s simple and attractive and well suited to the book. It’s a pity how rare that seems to be these days. But more importantly, I was intrigued by the concept. Levithan’s gender ambiguous narrator tells the story of their relationship in a series of vignettes organized under the headings of various dictionary entries.

I think this is best demonstrated by example, so here’s one of the entries:

basis, n.

There has to be a moment at the beginning when you wonder whether you’re in love with the person or in love with the feeling of love itself. 

If the moment doesn’t pass, that’s it—you’re done. And if the moment does pass, it never goes that far. It stands in the distance, ready for whenever you want it back. Sometimes it’s even there when you thought you were searching for something else, like an escape route, or your lover’s face. 

This is, needless to say, not a typical novel. So don’t pick it up expecting the spoony love story of a deserving heroine and dashing prince charming to play out along a traditional narrative timeline. The vignettes give you a series of glimpses into the details of the narrator’s romance, but the entries are not chronological, and the do not give you a complete picture. But that’s, I would argue, the beauty of The Lover’s Dictionary. The vignettes are steeped in detail, but they are also anonymous. The lovers could be anyone; they could be you. And so it isn’t a story to be read, enjoyed, and re-shelved. Because the story is inherently incomplete, and because the anonymity invites you in to take the narrator’s place, it is more like a field guide on love. The unexpected words Levithan chooses for his entries, and the vignettes that explain them, illuminate facets of relationships in surprising, delightful, and insightful ways.

The Lover’s Dictionary is a quick read. Two hours max, and most likely less. So there’s not much at stake if you give it a chance, which I recommend you do. It’s unique and poetic and relevant. I doubt there’s a person out there over the age of 15 who won’t identify with something in these entries.

Books Read This Year: 72
Top 100 Progress: 46/100


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