André Aciman’s 2007 novel, Call Me By Your Name, put us in the mind of Elio, an impulsive teenager. He spent a summer in Italy with his wealthy parents, his girlfriend, and a visiting grad student; Oliver. His feelings for Oliver grow from dislike to lust to something like love before the summer ends. The book and subsequent film were successful so Aciman began work on a follow up novel.
2019’s Find Me, places the characters in new May/December romances as they try to forget the past. Switching between multiple narrators reveals Aciman’s limitations. His anxious prose worked better in the mouth of a lovesick teenager than it does for the smug adults here. I could be generous and say he’s making a point about every affair being the same. But the book’s repetitive structure makes the romance from the last book feel less special.
I’ll be taking a look at some themes from the novel, and from LGBT+ fiction in general. I’ll attempt to avoid plot spoilers but if you’d like to read the book blind then save this for after. Both novels contain large age gaps so consider this your trigger warning.
Roles for Women
Women in m/m fiction often fit into three tropes: mother figures, confidantes and romantic rivals. Elio’s mother is ignored in the novel. His closest ties are to his father. His girlfriend, Marzia, is used for “practice” sex and soon abandoned. He has no peers to confide in.
Find Me opens with Elio’s father Sami. He’s cast aside his wife without much thought and met another trope: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Young Miranda is sunny extrovert who lifts the brooding man out of his stupor. She meets him in a train car and hours later she’s ready to dump her boyfriend and have Sami’s baby. I responded negatively to this portion of the novel, despite Aciman’s attempts to romanticize it. The parallels to Elio’s affair had me worried. Is Aciman saying that Elio was merely Oliver’s Manic Pixie Dream Boy? A stepping stone for personal growth, to be discarded when the lessons were learned?
I once had a date tell me I was like a “nice shirt that didn’t fit.” I overanalyzed that comment for weeks before accepting that you have to tell a date “something” if you don’t want to see them again. It’s better than ghosting. As a perpetual single myself I sympathize with the cast offs in love stories. The Antonios and Malvolios who never find love. The dismissive way Aciman’s characters speak of their past loves turns me against them.
The Age Gap
If the entire novel had focused on Sami I’d have put it aside. Spoiler alert. It does not. We next shift focus to Elio. He’s met an older man, Michel, at a concert and set his sights on him. Elio’s nearing 30 and Michel is nearing 60. Elio finds it amusing that he’s in the position Miranda is to his father. They’re all breaking the “rules.” Elio pushes for intimacy. He wants to be held and coddled. But Michel is guarded. He came out later in life and is unsure of himself. He also senses that Elio’s foot is out the door.
American pop culture has taught me several “rules” for relationships. One should have lovers in high school and college but let them go after graduation. They are for experience but if you settle down with your school sweetheart you stifle your growth. After 35 you are a divorcee or a spinster. You likely missed your chance for happiness. If you’re a gay man you disappear from the culture entirely. The ideal “window” seems to be between 25 and 35. That’s when Americans are still expected to find the spouse, the career path and, if so desired, a child. Marriage, divorce and childbirth statistics show that reality is more complicated.
A study going back to at least the early 2000’s suggests that the preferred age range of sexual partners is “Half your age plus seven years.” Oliver is 24 when he meets the 17 year old Elio. While Elio is above Italy’s age of consent, the “rule” states that Oliver should be dating someone 19 or older. Film actors Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet were 31 and 21 respectively, failing the test as well. For some this makes the relationship abusive. For others realistic. Closeted youth had few options among their peer group in the decades before GSA’s and the internet. Aciman’s novel suggests that while it was legal it was not entirely healthy. Elio states that the affair threw his life off course.
What do we want from a sequel? There’s no single answer. Some want to see Elio and Oliver find each other again and end in each other’s arms. Some want them to reconnect early so that the story can explore a long term relationship between them. Luca Guadagnino wanted Elio to explore his bisexuality and resume a relationship with Marzia. Others would prefer to not have a sequel at all.
What many didn’t want was to separate the characters and have them move on with their lives. Throughout the novel there’s a nagging question. Where’s Oliver? What became of his marriage? Will he ever come back? Will Elio “find” him? I’ll not answer those questions here. But I will ask what you, a potential reader, want? What’s the ideal ending to their story in your mind? What endings do you find satisfying in other same sex romances?