Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: The Lover's Dictionary - David Levithan

The Lover's Dictionary
David Levithan
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult/Adult, Romance, Poetry, Contemporary
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Beautiful
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I probably will never be able to articulate what this book means to me and how much I love it. It is tiny, but the heart on the front cover beats furiously, every single word holding something baring and honest and magical and alive. Do you get it yet!? Go read this book! What are you waiting for?

If you're still here, I might as well entertain you -- and this sentence exemplifies one of the most powerful devices Levithan employs in the book. The use of the Second Person point of view. It can feel subtle at times but it's huge. It immediately draws you into the story, makes you feel a part of it, forces you to think about how your actions affect another human being. It forces you into the general shoes of a lover, but also of someone with familial problems, with alcohol problems, and infidelity when your partner and you have clearly set boundaries against that. In this way, it helps enormously with the characterization.
motif, n.
You don't love me as much as I love you. You don't love me as much as I love you. You don't love me as much as I love you. (Levithan, 144)
Which leads to my second point: how the hell did he fit all of this poetry and depth into 211 pages? What the actual hell? The language is often as simple as the above quote, but if you know anything about this book at all, you know the lengths of Levithan's poetic abilities. And even when it's simple, it's often meaningful. The imbalanced love provided in Levithan's 'definition' for motif  is a crucial part of what can make or break relationships (of any kind) and is scarcely touched upon with deft hands in the over-romanticised world of fiction we find ourselves in, where it is only ever used as a plot device or character development device. The recognition of this imbalance is a crucial part of what makes this book, because Levithan doesn't handle it like just another plot device: like everything else in the book, he simply recognizes that it is a part of most relationships, explores it, and leaves it to play out on the rest of the pages and then for you to carry with you after the book is done.

This honesty is just so bloody fresh. I've become so spoiled with near-perfect relationships or perfectly destructive relationships in YA that it's hard to spot something that truly feels honest. Levithan sums it up in two pages:
ardent, adj.
It was after sex, when there was still heat and mostly breathing, when there was still touch and mostly thought . . . it was as if the whole world could be reduced to the sound of a single string being played, and the only thing this sound could make me think of was you. Sometimes desire is air; sometimes desire is liquid. And every now and then, when everything else is air and liquid, desire solidifies, and the body is the magnet that draws its weight. (19)
arduous, adj.
Sometimes during sex, I wish there was a button on the small of your back that I could press and cause you to be done with it already. (20)
This. Is. Perfect. I choose this over ubiquitous, which is summed up as: when it's good, you feel like your at the top of the world, and love is everywhere, and when it's bad, it's still everywhere, and it haunts you. This is the message in these two definitions, though this has to do with a more physical facet. Ardent gives desire a poetic, all-encompassing, overwhelmingly poetic and transcendent feeling. Sometimes, though, people can be turned off. This is wonderfully important because, like motif, it is something honest that is hardly ever come up in literature today. Even more so, because these definitions are right next to each other, this does something that the ubiquitous definition, as much as I love it, cannot do, it shows you just how quickly things can turn from good to bad. I've read some people complain about the structure of this book, how it isn't in a progressive narrative order. Those people obviously are missing something here. The structure is one of the most important parts of the book. Since the story itself is so incredibly simple: the narrator falls in love with 'you' and you both go through the motions of a regular relationship: finding an apartment and reconciling the different ways you like your living rooms, having to deal with your alcoholism, having to deal with the narrator's almost pathetic (and this is what sells it) shyness and inferiority complex, meeting each other's friends and family, having you cheat on him, him getting angry because you don't put the toothpaste cap on, etc. It's a simple love story, but love isn't so simple to Levithan, and it's so much more all over the place, confusing, contradicting, and so that's what this book is to me (in part). This book documents the difference between a facile understanding of relationships, and a comprehensive, honest understanding. Of course, there are books like The Art of Loving that offer deeper analysis, but this tiny masterpiece here offers so much more than its 211 pages to the world of budding lovers.

Before I continue to drool effervescently over this novel, I'll cut this review here. You should acquire this book by whatever means you possibly can. And read it.

And the best part? David Levithan continues his story on this twitter page.

- Marlon

What's your favorite love story?
Let us know in the comments!

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