Call Me by Your Name ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Call Me by Your Name, a novel by a writer named Andre Aciman, is set on the Italian Riviera during a summer in the mid-1980s. Elio is seventeen, very astute and with more depth than most people have at three times his age. He plays the piano, knows several languages, and his work for the summer is transcribing Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ. When was the last time you knew a seventeen-year-old boy who could boast of such splendid accomplishments?
Elio’s father is an American college professor and his mother Italian. They are what are called “ex-pats.” They live on the beautiful Italian Riviera near the spot where Percy Shelley drowned in 1822 at the age of twenty-nine. Every summer Elio’s family hosts an academic to stay with them for about six weeks or so. During the summer in which the story takes place, a twenty-four-year-old man named Oliver is chosen from among other applicants. Despite his young age, Oliver is also an academic and is busy working on a book on an esoteric, scholarly subject. That doesn’t mean, however, that during his summer with Elio’s family he doesn’t have plenty of time for nightlife, tennis, swimming and lying around naked, or practically naked, in the sun. Oh, and he’s also very good looking with a fabulous body. And, when it comes to sex, he is absolutely freewheeling, not bound up in rigidity and Puritanism the way most American men are.
So, the story of this summer in the mid-1980s is being told to us in the first-person voice of Elio, about thirty years or so after it occurred. In a way, it is a coming-of-age story, but with a twist. Most adolescent boys living on the Italian Riviera with their well-to-do and sophisticated parents are going to become infatuated and obsessed with a dark-eyed Italian woman with large breasts. In Elio’s case, however, the object of his lust and affection is Oliver, the young American man who came for the summer and changed Elio’s emotional landscape and the way he would forever view the world.
The words “homosexual” or “gay” are never used in Call Me by Your Name, but that’s what we’re talking about here. There is absolutely a blasé attitude toward sex and gender identity that is very European and that most Americans would find offensive. Americans separate “gay” and “straight” like they separate cars and motorcycles. The European attitude toward sex is that it is more of a continuum. If today you are with a woman and tomorrow a man, who cares? It’s just different branches of the same tree.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp