What does a lover do but fill a void? What does a lover do but save you from your own life, colorless, meaningless, bleak? Such are the traces of Elio Perlman’s psyche as we follow him through one fateful summer in southern Italy, sometime in the 1980s. 

In Call Me By Your Name, Aciman details a romance between Elio and Oliver. Actually, romance may not be the right word for what they found in each other, in the beginning, definitely not. Towards the end, however, the word ‘romance’ pales in comparison. Elio’s father is a professor who invites a different budding scholar to stay at their home each summer while they work on a project. Oliver happens to be the chosen one that summer, a young Columbia professor working on a manuscript, and we follow Elio’s tempestuous journey to the acceptance of his desire for another man.

When I first read this book, I thought this story was the most beautifully intimate story I’d ever read. But during my fourth reread, I had to think again. I regret to say I used to be a face-value reader. I hardly thought more about what lay beneath the surface, simply taking the words with me like a favorite blanket, cherishing the softness and torn flaws and offering it nothing more than my good love. But now, my oh my do I have things to say.

I realized upon my revisit just how odd Elio’s behavior can be at times. How did I not realize how creepy it was before? It irked me that this book was marketed as a romance novel. Romance is not befitting for the first half of the book at all. It reminded me of the way Wuthering Heights is perceived by people who believe it is a romantic story. Wuthering Heights is a tale of oppression and possession, of people who mistreat each other and are each crazier than the next. Not to mention it’s got the most unreliable narrator of all (which, by the way, is a concept my s/o told me about since I have not yet had the privilege of doing an English degree). 

But I was reminded that Elio is only seventeen years old, moody, and subsequently more prone to bouts of…..insanity? He is just a shy boy afraid to voice his thoughts, and that I could understand. Perhaps the way Aciman portrayed Elio’s behavior was intentional to better contrast the second half of the book?

Though the first half of my copy of the book is now littered with criticisms, I must say I was once again taken in by the second half of the story. How could I not be? I am, at heart, a hopeless romantic. 

“Perhaps we were friends first and lovers second. But then perhaps this is what lovers are.” (Aciman, p. 157)

Sometime between my third and fourth time reading Call Me By Your Name, I fell in love for the first time. Revisiting this tale of first love, first yearning, and first falling hit home. I admire the exquisite quality with which Aciman writes, “I felt as exposed as a stranded lamb on the dry, waterless plains of the Serengeti” (Aciman, p. 159). 

There was something so poignant about the way Elio counted down their days together. The you-will be-here-today-but-not-tomorrow-ness blanketed my heart in a weighted shade of Aegean blue. I too have a tendency toward the dramatic when it comes to yearning. Yearning and me, we go way back. I think the book had to break our hearts for it to work. The story would’ve lacked its essential profoundity if it didn’t make me cry.

“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,” Elio tells Oliver (Aciman, p. 240). 

Call Me By Your Name is a glass of summer wine, if summer wine makes you delusional, makes you green with envy when your lover is not with you, makes you prone to bouts of rage followed by a light pink pillow-soft bliss. And it’s at the end of the summer season when the heat relents that you start to think clearly again about the things you’ve taken for granted, what was once yours not here any longer. 

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