Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Lover's Dictionary

by David Levithan
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 224 pp., $18

There's a Venn diagram somewhere ~ just like there's a true love out there for you somewhere, sure, because abstractions are as ubiquitous as they are unattainable ~ and in one circle of this diagram are the sort of relationships experienced by people who aren't self-reflective, who are only mildly neurotic and also sort of boring, and in the other circle are the sort of relationships experienced by people who think perhaps too much about themselves and others and are also, on some emotional or psychological level or other, fucking apeshit crazy. And then, of course, there's the overlap. In this diagram, the overlap is where parts of pretty much anyone's relationships can be seen. This is the area covered by David Levithan – author, most famously, of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist – in his new book, The Lover's Dictionary.

Levithan's unnamed narrator uses a lens of words to reveal the particulars of his two-year (so far) relationship with his girlfriend: words, a few of them for each letter of the alphabet, which serve to mark the short passages he constructs after every one. This gambit's effective as a format for exploration by the author, and, for the reader, it renders the text into easily parsed pieces rarely longer than a Facebook update. It's effective as The Lover's Dictionary because Levithan has been through an emotional wringer or two, or has somehow grokked what it's like, and still dares (or is helpless) to hope that another journey through another wringer could end up elsewhere than in a sodden pile of regret on the cold, hard floor in some laundry room of love.

To some extent, you've been this narrator, I've been this narrator, we've all been this narrator. That's a compliment to Levithan's skill at making the personal work universally and vice versa; he's just telling one man's story ~ well, one-man-and-one-woman-together's story, from the man's point of view ~ and yet it's so damned familiar. What else it is, thankfully, is not overly or merely or more than occasionally clever or maudlin ~ a relief, as this Dictionary is clearly written by A Sensitive Guy. And of course here it is, in its fine and smallish hardcover package, just waiting to be the perfect Valentine's Day gift for, what's the term, that special someone? Or just for yourself. Because, c'mon, aren't you just as special?

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