CultureReviews

Review: The gay romance classic “Call Me By Your Name” is an essential read

Photo by Mckenzie Heileman

In my ongoing goal as a straight, cis woman to read more LGBTQIA+ literature, I read a novel that was an exceptionally beautiful portrayal of what it means to love, and to lose. 

“Call Me By Your Name” by André Aciman, published in 2007, depicts the summer romance between Elio, a 17-year-old Italian boy, and Oliver, a 24-year-old American man staying at Elio’s parents’ home on the coast of Italy. 

The novel is entirely atmospheric, Elio and Oliver’s days filled with poolside naps, translating classical works and fresh fruit. Readers may wonder if their relationship could only develop in a place as beautiful as this. 

Readers learn of the difficulties of the developing romance between the two, such as the complicated desires and the consequences of those desires, and later, the sweeping loss of a once cherished relationship. 

Photo of the book "Call Me By Your Name" on a table.
Photo by Mckenzie Heileman

This novel has negative aspects that I am not putting aside. The sexual nature of the relationship between the minor and the adult is not something readers can ignore.

However, if readers can shift their attention to the more intricate qualities of the story, they will lose themselves in the world of Elio and Oliver. With lush and gorgeous prose, the slowly developed romance will leave one wanting more. 

What makes Aciman’s novel so intense and so valuable is his ability to craft a relationship that is realistic. He tears Elio and Oliver apart to put them back together, only to tear them apart once more in a way that is so final, it rips readers’ hearts out.

This relationship of love and loss reflects real-life relationships. Everything does not always go smoothly, or perfectly, and Aciman’s novel portrays that.  

Of the romance, Aciman writes, “If there is any truth in the world, it lies when I’m with you.” Anyone who has loved can relate to Elio and Oliver’s relationship. 

As the romance progresses, the two decide to call one another by each other’s name, as a symbol of the love they feel toward the other. Suggested by Oliver, this request shows how deeply the two feel for each other. At this moment, readers also understand the title of the novel. 

In an article written by Alissa Wilkinson for Vox in 2017, the author reviews the film adaptation of Aciman’s story. Wilkinson explains Oliver’s request through Greek mythology. 

“It feels like an odd request at first, until you remember an idea that surfaces in Plato’s Symposium: that in Greek mythology, humans were created as four-armed, four-legged, two-faced creatures, but split apart by Zeus and condemned to spend life searching for their other halves. In the Symposium’s rendering, whether one searches for a female or male half has to do with the nature of your original being, and there are various means through which two halves who find each other might live in companionship. This is, in other words, an origin story for what we moderns might call soulmates, and it hums through Call Me by Your Name like electricity,” Wilkinson wrote. 

Graphic by Sarah Schmid

Readers that can heavily relate to love that Elio and Oliver experience can then also relate to the loss that they must endure.  

After Oliver returns to the United States and years pass, Elio receives a phone call from Oliver, which encapsulates the loss Elio has experienced. 

“‘Elio,’ he said. No one could say my name that way. ‘Elio,’ I repeated, to say it was I speaking but also to spark our old game and show I’d forgotten nothing. ‘It’s Oliver,’ he said. He had forgotten,” Aciman wrote. 

To read this is to feel the devastating loss of love, of their entire summer spent together. It is heartbreaking. Readers instantly relate it to a loss they may have felt themselves. 

Finally, as the novel comes to a close, the title repeats itself in a way that is beautiful, shattering and altogether conclusive. 

“…as you did back then, look me in the face, hold my gaze, and call me by your name,” Aciman wrote.

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