DavidLevithan, the author of eight novels aimed at young adults (andco-author of four more, including Nickand Nora’s Infinite Playlist) makeshis first foray into adult fiction with TheLover’s Dictionary. It’s aquirky assortment of defined words whose meanings add up to the arc of atwo-year romance. Told in first-person by a man whose name we never learn, thisdictionary’s sole resemblance to the real thing starts and ends with itsalphabetical structure.
A isn’t for Apple here, it’s for Aberrant, as in “‘Idon’t normally do this sort of thing,’ you said. ‘Neither do I,’ I assured you.'”The definition lets us know the couple met online and slept together on thefirst date. With entries as short as a five-word sentence (“reverberate, v. Why did your father leave?”) todefinitions that run on for a page or two, the details trickle out. Thenarrator and his girlfriend live together in Manhattan. They keep their bookson separate shelves. She drinks too much. He’s insecure. She has more than afew secrets. He fights the urge to read her email.
Word by word, Levithan patiently builds a portrait of alove story. As a reader, you’d better be patient, too. The details trickle out,often frank and funny, occasionally heartbreaking. Words like aloof, corrode,cajole, kerfuffle and, yes, love (“n.I’m not going to even try.”) build not so much a novel as a line drawingof a relationship.
Whether things end well or badly with “zenith, n.” is for the reader to decide,and may well tip the balance of whether this sweet but slight volume getstucked into a beloved’s Valentine’s Day’s day bouquet.