Veronique de Turenne
David Levithan, the author of eight novels aimed at young adults (and co-author of four more, including Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist) makes his first foray into adult fiction with The Lover's Dictionary. It's a quirky assortment of defined words whose meanings add up to the arc of a two-year romance. Told in first-person by a man whose name we never learn, this dictionary's sole resemblance to the real thing starts and ends with its alphabetical structure.
A isn't for Apple here, it's for Aberrant, as in "'I don'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 the first date. With entries as short as a five-word sentence ("reverberate, v. Why did your father leave?") to definitions that run on for a page or two, the details trickle out. The narrator and his girlfriend live together in Manhattan. They keep their books on separate shelves. She drinks too much. He's insecure. She has more than a few secrets. He fights the urge to read her email.
Word by word, Levithan patiently builds a portrait of a love 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 drawing of 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 gets tucked into a beloved's Valentine's Day's day bouquet.
--Veronique de Turenne
Read an Excerpt
THE LOVER'S DICTIONARY
By David Levithan
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC
Copyright © 2011 David Levithan
All right reserved.
Chapter One I, n.
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."
Excerpted from THE LOVER'S DICTIONARY by David Levithan Copyright © 2011 by David Levithan. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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