How on earth could a dictionary of words tell a love story? Well the easiest answer I would have to that is to say `go and read David Levithan's new novel The Lover's Dictionary'. However as I should be hinting at why it's worth doing that a single short sentence isn't really a justifiable reason or incentive. Levithan uses a selection of words, in alphabetical order of course, and then below the word in a sentence, a paragraph or a page or two long piece creates a moment or incident in the relationship that builds an image of a time in that relationship.. Be it from `anthem' to `kerfuffle' or `leery' to `yearning' in each case clearly, simply and very effectively Levithan draws the reader into the most intimate and emotional moments of a couple's journey. That last bit makes it sounds saccharine and its not, I don't like saccharine novels, so it's probably best I give you an example, my favourite of which was `buffoonery' because it made me laugh, a lot. Though with alchoholism and adultery all lingering between the lines of this novel don't go thinking it's just a lovely story of love.
You were drunk, and I made the mistake of mentioning Showgirls in a near-empty subway car. The pole had no idea what it was about to endure.
After closing the final page of `The Lover's Dictionary', which is a deceptively short novel to read, I actually felt like I had witnessed the development of a three year relationship from its very start to its very finish and with the highs and lows that come during that time period. Rather amazing then that this has happened without knowing either of the names of the two people who create that couple. In fact you are never even sure what the sex of the second person in that novel is, its left a mystery, the nameless narrator we only learn is male half way through, the lover however could be a man or a woman - you just know that this person is rather stunningly beautiful, because the narrator spends a lot of time obsessing over this and the insecurity it breeds in them.
This slightly insular edge the narrator has, seemingly caused by a slight inferiority complex is one that we have all had in relationships before I am sure. In fact it's the slight feeling of empathy that Levithan creates with the nameless narrator which means you can put yourself slap bang in their place, and it's occasionally a little uncomfortable. It's this very real sensation that I liked so much about the book, love isn't all flowers and joy, it can be hard work, and it can be heartbreaking. It has both the good sides and the not so. Levithan explores these two spectrums of feelings and all those that fall in the middle of them too. I loved how the book hit on those moments of random togetherness we can sometimes feel with someone, I haven't seen it done so well in a book for quite some time.
As I mentioned above books that strive to do something different with fiction can go several ways. People can find them contrived, calculated, maybe a little niche and a little too gimmicky, or they can be the next best thing ever. I would put `The Lover's Dictionary' somewhere in the middle. I did feel a little at the start like this was going to be one of those books you would only buy someone for valentines day which would then end up in the garbage a few months or years down the line. Well shame on me, because this is much more than that, it has a depth despite how succinct it is. Actually, as I think on it, it could be the succinct brief nature of `The Lover's Dictionary' that makes it so compelling and hits the emotions home to the reader. I don't want to call this book ground breaking or experimental, it's just something that's rather different and really works.