Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Review: The Lover's Dictionary

Rather than complete the book review I've been working on, I decided to write one about the book I just finished last night instead. It took about 40 minutes to read, but will take considerably less so to write the review.

As the title suggests, David Levithan's The Lover's Dictionary is written as a series of dictionary entries. He selects words with which to describe a love story and then write snippets of that story for each word. The reasoning, as summed up by the male lead: "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." So true.

The idea with The Lover's Dictionary is to stop and consider the words being used to describe the relationship. Words like "dumbfounded," "incessant," "zenith," and "punctuate" we may never use ourselves but still ring true.

It seems a bit gimmicky, to approach a novel in such a format but hey, why not. There are books out there written as emails, and as blog posts. Maybe even ones on the way written as a series of Facebook updates or Twitter posts. Though I suppose with emoji books now being accepted by the Library of Congress, there's no need to bother with an 'old school' book format when it comes to Twitter.

I thought this choice of format an intriguing way to humanize a word rather than have the characters attempt to explain or try to emulate the meaning of that word within the story. What I mean is that the people felt like set pieces, to be moved and jostled to accommodate the word rather than the words being moved and jostled to accommodate the characters, as we are accustomed. If this makes sense. Maybe?

To make this work though, there has to be some detachment in order to ensure the word or entry is appropriately highlighted. This is accomplished by the lack of names for the lead characters. "You" stands in for the girlfriend, with the story swirling based on the perspective of the no-name boyfriend.

Well, he's not exactly no-name as he intends to be the narrative embodiment of each word. Both are at the will of the word, yet she is always condensed to a singular, generic word, whereas he is extrapolated and freed by multiple, specific words. As such, the words stand in as his name, or at least this is how it seemed to me.

Some of the entries are very short while others have a few paragraphs, just like in a dictionary.  One fault with the entries is the lack of chronology between the entries. Then again, maybe it isn't really a fault as a possible writing affectation. The chronological disparity may have been deliberate (again to follow the dictionary format) or it maybe was just a matter of wanting to use certain words and needing to make them work within 200 pages. Not that it really matters, as ultimately Levithan builds the story consistently, slowly. You want to know where the narrative thread will lead, what words comprise the finality of the character's story. And this is a mark of a good read.

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