From the Publisher
“Levithan brings ingenuity and a wry edge to his first adult novel. . . Among the novel’s pleasures are micro-stories that speak volumes, reminiscent of Lydia Davis’ work. . . There’s plenty of reflection, not just on the relationship but on the attempt to distill and describe such complex feeling, including this: ‘Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.’ That, by the way, is Levithan’s definition of ineffable.” —Heller McAlpin, NPR.org
“‘The Lover’s Dictionary’ is clever and poetic and, sigh, sad. . . The brief entries are like poetry; poetry with a gravitational pull back to the central narrative, which is two people falling in love. The fact that the pieces hold together so well is testament, not only to Levithan’s light hand and gracious writing but also to the power of this universal story.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, Newsday
“Young-adult novelist David Levithan doesn’t list this entry under the V in the alphabetically headed (and arranged) chapters of ‘The Lover's Dictionary,’ his charming short novel about a love affair and its bittersweet evolution from first flirt to shaky domesticity, for lovers of all gender persuasions . . . Surrounded by large amounts of white space—which may be useful for readers as we walk through these dictionary-like entries for musing on our own loves and losses—the spare number of words in Levithan’s novel may be just enough . . . But allow me to exclaim. Without ellipsis. (and some white space) Here is a lovely Valentine’s Day gift for lovers!” —Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle
“Levithan crafts a love affair as sharp, funny, and sad as any you’d find in an epic novel. . . The Lover’s Dictionary isn’t about how lessons were learned, and in what order—it’s a documentation of facts, memories, war wounds. And anyone who has been in a romantic relationship will recognize themselves in Levithan’s lovers, from the tiniest details of merging bookshelves and quiet afternoons to the largest anxieties of sexual inadequacy and romantic reciprocity. Levithan’s rhapsody is just that: an ode to desire written as an account of the traces such desire leaves behind.” —Jessica Freeman-Slade, TheRumpus.net
“David Levithan makes every word count . . . Levithan gives readers the kind of love story that Billy Pilgrim in ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ would have appreciated: unstuck in time, reliving moments in unpredictable order and in varying emotional colors. . . an equal opportunity romance with wit and rue, kisses and tears, that anyone can enjoy.” —Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“From ‘aberrant’ to ‘zenith,’ David Levithan’s latest creates a relationship in short scenes, packed with lyrical language. Entries slip back and forth in time as they unfold through an alphabet of romance, anger, forgiveness and tenderness to make up one particular relationship . . . The entries manage to be both intently focused and hinting at the larger picture. They read more like a well-crafted series of poems than a linear story line. Each word is defined and captured in a moment of the relationship. Levithan moves from romance to heartbreak to flirtation to devotion, in alphabetical order.” —Elizabeth Willse, Star-Ledger
“Interestingly, each definition is told from the point of view and in the first-person voice of only one of the partners. The other partner’s voice remains silent throughout except as quoted by the narrator. Nevertheless, both come wonderfully alive, emerging as complex, multidimensional human beings, happy and unhappy, ebullient and angry, sweet and sour, and so—delightfully—forth. Happily, the order of the alphabet does not dictate the order of the story, which moves backward and forward in time. Thus, the dramatic necessity of conflict arises from one partner’s infidelity, the impact of which is then explored at various points in the history of the partnership. Nothing is cut-and-dried, however, for as Levithan demonstrates, intimacy is sometimes enigmatic and, as he notes under ineffable, “No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.” So you must clearly pick and choose which to use, an act that Levithan has accomplished artfully and satisfyingly.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Levithan attains some heartbreaking moments as well as pitches of hilarity with his concise, polished writing. Inherent in such an endeavor is an adorableness thankfully grounded by Levithan’s wit.” —Publishers Weekly
…Levithan creates a genuine emotional arc for his unnamed characters that makes this book much more than a gimmick.
The Washington Post
This cute "novel" by YA author Levithan consists of a series of words and their definitions, each evoking a phase or theme about a fledgling romance. (e.g., fledgling: "Part of the reason I preferred reading to sex was that I at least knew I could read well"). The entries do gradually unravel a love story: the narrator has met a woman ("you") through an online dating site (aberrant: "‘I don't normally do this kind of thing,' you said. ‘Neither do I,' I assured you"). He endures all the writhings of new love, by turns eager, reserved, and hopeful about their evolving relationship, and transported by the joy of mutual exploration, the two move in together (balk: "If it all went wrong, the last thing I'd care about was who was to blame for moving in together") and are eventually undone (livid: "You went and broke our lives"). Levithan attains some heartbreaking moments as well as pitches of hilarity with his concise, polished writing. Inherent in such an endeavor (that just happens to hit shelves around Valentine's Day) is an adorableness thankfully grounded by Levithan's wit. (Feb.)
A author Levithan (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) enters the adult market with a novel posing as a dictionary. Written from the perspective of a man in an unnamed couple, each entry, from "aberrant" to "zenith," defines a word within the context of their relationship. The entries follow the couple from their online meeting forward into cohabitation. It's not all hearts and flowers: entries are philosophical or melancholic as often as romantic, documenting, among other things, his shyness and intimacy issues and her drinking problem. The results read like little prose poems or especially pithy Facebook posts. This is an easy book to zip through in one or two sittings, but be forewarned: a dictionary doesn't end with happily, or unhappily, ever after. It's a book of moments, not conclusions; reading them can get addictive. VERDICT This intimate, honest look at how one plus one can be both more and less than two is strongly recommended for readers who don't need a high degree of specificity or resolution. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/10.]—Neil Hollands, Williamsburg Regional Lib., VA
A young man chooses an unusual format to record the details of his longtime relationship with a woman he meets online.
The two unnamed lovers at the heart of this bittersweet take on love and commitment have a common enough story. Boy meets girl, they fall hard for each other, move into an apartment, and then wonder if they should even be together. The boy, a New York literary type, chooses to tell their story as an A-Z glossary, with each word definition standing in for something associated with their relationship. The definitions—from "aberrant" to "zenith," and everything in between—offer quick glimpses of two years of couplehood. A lot can be gleaned from the brief entries, which often read as prose poems. The narrator's beloved, we learn, is beautiful, gregarious and drinks too much. He is shy and fastidious. She is bruised from a dysfunctional past, while his childhood was happy. They travel, meet each other's families and fall into routines. He adores her but has doubts about their ultimate compatibility. He struggles with simmering resentments, fears and neediness. And then an episode of infidelity causes possible irreparable damage. Can they even move beyond it? While gimmicky and saddled with a narrator who takes himself a bit too seriously, this adult effort from one of the authors of Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist (2006) still manages to hit some universal truths about love's perfect imperfections.
A quirky Valentine to modern romance, from the guy's point of view.
Read an Excerpt
Me without anyone else.
“I’m quitting,” you say. “I can’t believe how wasted I was.
This time, I’m really going to do it.”
And I tell you I’ll help. It’s almost a script at this point.
We stopped counting our relationship in dates (first date, second date, fifth date, seventh) and started counting it in months. That might have been the first true commitment, this shift in terminology. We never talked about it, but we were at a party and someone asked how long we’d been together, and when you said, “A month and a half,” I knew we had gotten there.
I have summer Fridays off; you don’t. So what better reason for me to take you to lunch and then keep you at lunch for the whole afternoon? Reserving these afternoons to do all the city things we never get around to doing – wandering through MoMA, stopping in at the Hayden Planetarium, hopping onto the Staten Island Ferry and riding back and forth, back and forth, watching all the people as they unknowingly parade for us. You notice clothes more than I do, so it’s a pleasure to hear your running commentary, to construct lives out of worn handbags or shirts opened one button too low. Had we tried to plan these excursions, they never would have worked. There has to be that feeling of escape.
You left your email open on my computer. I couldn’t help it – I didn’t open any of them, but I did look at who they were from, and was relieved.
The doubts. You had to save me from my constant doubts. That deep-seeded feeling that I wasn’t good enough for anything – I was a fake at my job, I wasn’t your equal, my friends would forget me if I moved away for a month. It wasn’t as easy as hearing voices – nobody was telling me this. It was just something I knew. Everyone else was playing along, but I was sure that one day they would all stop.
That first night, you took your finger and pointed to the top of my head, then traced a line between my eyes, down my nose, over my lips, down my neck, to the center of my chest. It was so surprising, I knew I would never mimic it. That one gesture would be yours forever.
These words will ultimately end up being the barest of reflections, devoid of the sensations words cannot convey. Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.
We think of them as hiding in the hills – rebels, ransackers, rogue revolutionaries. But really, aren’t they just guilty of infidelity?
“Why do you always make the bed?” I asked. “We’re only going to get back in it later tonight.”
You looked at me like I was the worst kind of slacker.
“It’s just what I’ve always done,” you said. “We always had to make our bed. Always.”
I was so nervous to meet Kathryn. You’d made it clear she was the only friend whose opinion you really cared about, so I spent more time getting dressed for her than I ever had for you. We met at that sushi place on Seventh Avenue and I awkwardly shook her hand, then told her I’d heard so much about her, which came off like me trying to legitimize your friendship, when I was the one who needed to get the stamp of approval. I was on safer ground once we started talking about books, and she seemed impressed that I actually read them. She remarked on the steadiness of my job, the steadiness of my family. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be steady, but she saw my unease and assured me it was a good thing, not usually your type. We found out we’d gone to summer camp within ten minutes of each other, and that sealed it. You were lost in our tales of the Berkshires and the long, unappreciative stretches we’d spent on the Tanglewood lawn.
At the end of the dinner, I got a hug, not a handshake. She seemed so relieved. I should have been glad . . . but it only made me wonder about the other guys of yours that she’d met. I wondered why I was considered such a break from the norm.
“Excerpted from THE LOVER’S DICTIONARY by David Levithan, to be published in January 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2011 by David Levithan. All rights reserved.”