Book Review: The Lover’s Dictionary: A Novel by David Levithan
First Published: January 4th, 2011
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Epistolary Fiction,
Synopsis (from Goodreads): 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 momentdoes 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.
How does one talk about love? Do we even have the right words to describe something that can be both utterly mundane and completely transcendent, pulling us out of our everyday lives and making us feel a part of something greater than ourselves? Taking a unique approach to this problem, the nameless narrator of David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary has constructed the story of his relationship as a dictionary. Through these short entries, he provides an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of being within a couple, giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time.
This is a novel where the start isn’t really the beginning. The conclusion doesn’t finish the story. But instead, this book is more like a series of snapshots into a couple’s relationship. And each snapshot has then been placed in order – not chronologically, but rather in alphabetical order. I thought it was a very clever way to write the story. Each page is a new dictionary entry with each entry giving you a moment or a thought regarding the lover’s relationship from the perspective of the narrator. The narrator and his lover’s names are never revealed but somehow that just makes you feel more connected with the story. They could be anyone. They could be you. And I felt incredibly involved.
Levithan has such a beautiful way with words. This is the first novel I’ve read authored by him and I was captivated from the first few pages. I fell in love with the love the couple shared. And I shared emotions with them right though the story – livid, heartbreak, joy. I felt it all. And I loved how this book made me feel.
My one problem with the story was how disappointed I was with the ending. At the start of the book I felt like the author was inviting me in to be a welcome voyeur into this couple’s life. But then, when I was emotionally invested in them, he slammed the door in my face. Despite knowing that this is where the novel was going to end (we’d gotten to Z in the definitions) I still felt he owed it to me to give me a more definitive ending. It was a bit of a tease and right now I’m still a little steamed over it.
The Lover’s Dictionary is not a very long book. It’s only 211 pages and with every definition started on a new page and some definitions only having a few lines, it’s not all that verbose. But it’s a smart and witty story. I have to admit that some of the definitions used had me diving for the dictionary and had me wishing my vocabulary was better. And relate-able! There were many of the entries had me reminiscing over my own past relationships and feeling a kinship with the narrator. At times it was as if my own experiences which I could never quite find the words for were here in this novel – phrased better and with more honest emotion than I could ever hope to achieve.
4.5 out of 5
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