Book Review: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

The Lover's DictionaryThe Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

My rating: ★★★

Patience, I build up to a point:

Not only do I live in a extrovert-valued society, but a very sexual one: sex still sells, and as discussions mount, more people are (hopefully) accepting the fact that more than one orientation exists. It lives in our media and news, and it is natural, if only because we are human, to form strong emotions from intimacy.

Then there is me: an awkward puzzle piece that doesn’t know her place. I know people who praise their significant others (good for them) or dump a nasty truckload of their relationship garbage when things turn sour. I’m not positive if these people want me to partake in their joy, console, or relate and participate in a woo-hoo or moan-and-groan conversation. (When consulted, I am experienced in offering my honest observations on love problems. This promptly upsets the other party and I get yelled at. Honesty, I learned, is not the best policy. When in doubt: lie.)

However uncomfortable to discuss, I snugly fit into the smaller fraction of introverts and aromantic/”asexuals.” The point is: sometimes I don’t get it. Just as many don’t understand my odd tendencies, I don’t understand the wants, needs, and obsessions others have for such intimate relationships — I grasp circumstance and interactions. Friendship is good enough for me, and anything beyond that is a territory I possess no desire or passion for. Likewise, I couldn’t be sure if I’d “get” The Lover’s Dictionary.

autonomy, n.
“I want my books to have their own shelves,” you said, and that’s how I knew it would be okay to live together.

I raise attention to this context because most who adore The Lover’s Dictionary personally connect — that is why they enjoy it. This book resonates with people’s emotional memories, which excludes me entirely. Its arm creeps out as a finger distends, swirls the memory pool, and all at once: old or current relationship(s) pop out and that emotional cord gets plucked. I understand this much; blame your brain. It stores all those happy and bitter or plain pissed-off memories, and watch out for what it will toss: a whole spectrum can be hurled as a range of feelings storm through. Pleasant or horrid, it doesn’t matter and it’s automatic.

With all that I said, and considering how I tantrum’d over the last two Levithan books I read, I’m surprised I don’t dislike this. I don’t love The Lover’s Dictionary, but I do — at the very least — like it, which is good enough. In the past, my chief complaint has centered on Levithan’s lackluster and contrived effect, resulting in shallow characters and my own disappointment. What I have grown to expect from David Levithan’s skill is tantamount to bad coffee: it’s weak, and I’ll devour very little. Unlike the coffee, I’ll take in the entire book, all right, but I can dive deeper in kiddy pools. I read Levithan’s work in under an hour and walk away unconvinced of any character conviction.

That established, it feels nice to say that — for the first time — Levithan convinced me. I believed these were two people in a relationship! Wow, Levithan, let’s celebrate; I applaud this moment.

However, I find prejudice in the perspective. I think the narrator presents himself too ‘clean-cut,’ as in all or most of the failures landed upon his partner. (Or perhaps the narrator is female? It’s difficult to ascertain, and sometimes it feels like the narrator switches between the couple.) I can’t say I took issue with this, because it seems genuine. How often do we scrutinize our own contributions to arguments, our miscommunications? Many of us prefer to feel clean of fault and place that burden on the other person. Much honesty breathes this story into reality, but…

I don’t care for the overall arrangement. The idea of exposing the ups and downs of a relationship (defining, you might say) in dictionary format is quirky. If well-executed, you could have a very peculiar success. But — and here I go morphing into an ugly monster, claws showing and ready to madden the fan base — Levithan’s work needs time and polish. I still spy that unrefined edge to his structure where I’d rather see smooth class. There’s not one particular example to quote, as I see it in every sentence. I won’t pretend I’m a fan of his work, so why do I read David Levithan’s books? I suppose, if anything, I want to watch him grow as a writer while hoping to catch a glimpse of what makes him so damn popular.

Love, like most relationships, can feel daunting and uncertain at times. What attracts a person to another may end up becoming that one thing the person loathes. (500) Days of Summer‘s Tom Hansen expressed this: “I love this heart-shaped birthmark she has on her neck” turned to “I hate her cockroach-shaped splotch on her neck.” Levithan presents the topsy-turvy aspect, the “I love you, but sometimes I hate you” conflict. He highlights the scary leap couples take, and those decisions that either strengthen or tear down the life they’ve built together.

If you’re a Tom Hansen, or know a Tom Hansen, this book will better suffice as an object to batter and deface with crass card greetings — wait for the train to rush by and some wreckage to clear. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone experiencing love problems, but if you’re in a content place, in love, or in love with the idea of love: yes, I recommend this book. I’m not crazy about The Lover’s Dictionary myself, but no harm came from reading it.

flux, n.
The natural state. Our moods change. Our lives change. Our feelings for each other change. Our bearings change. The song changes. The air changes. The temperature of the shower changes.
Accept this. We must accept this.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

  1. Pingback: Book: The Lover’s Dictionary | taking a break

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