Connect with us

Books

‘Call Me By Your Name’ sequel ‘Find Me’ evocative but lacks original’s power

Aciman keeps readers waiting masochistically while introducing new characters

Published

on

Find Me review, gay news, Washington Blade
‘Find Me,’ the sequel to ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ will be released Oct. 29. (Image courtesy Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Unusually close father fixations, intense longing, the first flush of new romance that’s as scary as it is exciting, oh — and pretty much everybody here is bi. These are the major themes of “Find Me,” the sequel to “Call Me By Your Name.” Out Oct. 29, it continues the stories of the same-sex lovers Elio and Oliver that Andre Aciman introduced in his 2007 novel, memorably adapted into a 2017 movie with Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer.

I’m gonna stay pretty vague here and keep this as spoiler free as possible. If you want more on setting and premise, that’s easily available online. I went into this 100 percent blind and found the experience quite satisfying. “Call Me” director Luca Guadagino has said he’s planning a sequel of his own that would pick up a few years after the film (the book had an episodic final third not depicted in the movie) with Elio and Oliver navigating through the AIDS era. “Find Me” eschews that scenario altogether.

“Find Me” (**1/2 out of four) really takes its time gathering steam. I can’t necessarily say that’s a bad thing — one of “Call Me’s” biggest charms (in both book and film form) was its unusually languid pace, which so deftly captured the feel of a lazy Italian summer in which Elio and Oliver discovered each other. The pacing, though, worked much better in the earlier book as it was more suited to the timeline of the story. For Aciman to take his same good, ole’ time covering — as in the book’s first section — just a few days’ time, often feels laborious.

Not helping matters is how suddenly he’ll speed things up at whim. One particular same-sex romance in the middle section of the book dubbed “Cadenza” starts off with Aciman’s trademark detail in which no thought or action is deemed too fleeting or throwaway to not share. We’re treated to passages like: “… and then he asked if he could shampoo my hair, to which I said of course he could, and while the shampoo sat on my hair after he’d rubbed it in, I heard him wash himself, only then to feel his fingers rubbing and prodding my skull time and time again.”

That’s all fine and good — sensory detail can be powerful — but then just a few pages later: “Thursday that week we met again at nine at the same restaurant. Friday for lunch. And then for dinner as well. After breakfast that Saturday, he said he was going to drive to the country …” It’s such an extreme pick up of the pacing you almost feel literary whiplash.

Musical motifs form the book’s four sections — Tempo, Cadenza, Capriccio and Da Capo. Told in first person, it takes awhile in each section to figure out who’s speaking and where we are. And be ready to wait. I mean, really wait. Elio is first mentioned by name on page 107; Oliver is alluded to first on page 139. We first see his name on page 233.

As one plods through this leisurely pace, it’s always in the back of the mind whether or not Aciman will deliver a satisfying enough finale to have justified his long roundabouts. That’s, of course, up to each reader to decide, but I would have preferred not spending so much time in the lives and passions of new characters like Miranda (who figures heavily in Tempo, the longest section at a whopping 117 pages) and Michel, a central figure in “Cadenza.”

I was, at first, grateful to have been spared equally detailed prose about Micol, Oliver’s wife of many years, and how they ended up together. And yet, in retrospect, it would have yielded a bit more insight into Oliver, the more inscrutable of the central couple in “Call Me.” He ends up feeling like an afterthought here. Yes, we do get inside his head a bit in Capriccio and Da Capo, but it feels underdeveloped. In Cadenza, Aciman spends dozens of pages detailing Elio (a pianist) cracking a musical mystery (he’s given a handwritten score of murky origins). It’s mildly involving and ends up having some poignance, but ultimately factors — as is common with these types of red herring plot devices — way less in the grand scheme of the story than you’d think considering the attention it gets.

Aciman’s biggest failure here is his inability to differentiate his characters enough as they navigate the throes and blushes of new love. Told always in first person, they narrate things like, “we were staring at each other, and yet neither of us was saying anything. I knew that if I uttered another word I would break the spell, so we sat there, silent and staring, silent and staring, as if she too did not want to lift the spell.” By the end of the book, we’ve been treated to three rounds of this sort of thing from three different perspectives but the voices aren’t distinct enough to justify such poring over these mini-moments.

One might argue that’s the point — Aciman is noting how similar these mating rituals, this flirting is across the board, male or female, gay (more like bi) or straight. But he introduces, then tosses aside so cavalierly such major characters in his story while making us wait, almost masochistically, to discover the fate of Elio and Oliver, it ends up feeling more like a long trip around Robin Hood’s barn than the insightful dissection of human emotion he clearly intends it to be.

In fairness, do these things ever really work? One thinks, of course, of everything from the recent “The Testaments” (the sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale”) to “Go Set a Watchman” (sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird”). Are these projects ever terribly satisfying? What would that even look like in Elio and Oliver’s world? Do we want them together setting up house with a white picket fence? We’d hate him if he’d killed one of them off. What does one do with this conundrum?

Aciman has made a noble effort and the book is engrossing, even at his pace, which is actually saying something. But ultimately too much time is spent on rabbit trails with the goods way too rushed over in the final section (Da Capo is a mere 13 pages) to prove effective, much less as shatteringly evocative as “Call Me.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Books

‘Fiona and Jane’ an enticing look at lifelong friendship

Two women bicker, fall distant – then meet again

Published

on

(Book cover image courtesy of Viking)

‘Fiona and Jane’
By Jean Chen Ho
c. 2022, Viking
$26/275 pages

“Fiona and Jane,” a new short story collection by Jean Chen Ho is an enticing New Year’s present. The captivating volume features secrets, family conflict, queerness, astute cultural observations, and above all, friendship.

We long to fall in love. So we lose our hearts to our lovers and go to pieces when our relationships break up.

Yet, especially, if we’re women and/or queer, we want a best friend as much, maybe more, than we do a lover.

Fiona and Jane, Asian Americans, grew up in Los Angeles. They’ve been best friends since they met in LA in second grade. Jane’s family emigrated to Los Angeles from Taiwan. Fiona, with her mother, came to LA from Taiwan when she was a young child.

In “Fiona and Jane,” Ho’s debut collection, the two friends over 30 years grow from second-graders to 30-somethings. Ho’s linked stories draw us into Fiona and Jane’s friendship as they become, at different times, incredibly close, then distant (both geographically and emotionally) from each other.

Ho, 41, has more writing chops than you can imagine. She is a doctoral candidate in creative writing and literature at the University of Southern California where she is a Dornsife Fellow in fiction. Ho has an MFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her writing has been published in The Georgia Review, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, McSweeney’s, and other publications.

Ho was born in Taiwan, grew up in Southern California and lives in Los Angeles. But, “none of the things that happen to Fiona and Jane are autobiographical,” she said on the podcast “All of It with Alison Stewart,” “I didn’t mine my particular life experiences and put them in the book out of respect to my oldest and dearest friends.”

Fiona is hetero, smart  and attractive. As a teen, she earns enough money to buy a secondhand car (named Shamu, Ho writes, “after the Sea World killer whale because of the corroding white patches all over the black paint.”).

While Fiona’s mother isn’t religious, Jane’s Mom is devoutly Christian. Jane is bisexual. When she and Fiona are teens, they kiss  “to practice” – what kissing’s like. Though she doesn’t tell her Mom, Jane, when a teenager, has a romantic relationship with her female piano teacher.

When she’s young, Jane often does what Fiona does. Because Jane’s tall, she’s often thought of as “Fiona’s bodyguard.” As she grows older, Jane begins to rely more on herself.

Fiona is eager to leave LA. She goes to college, then moves to New York City with her first boyfriend. She enters law school, then drops out.

Jane stays in Los Angeles. She opts to take a gap year between high school and college. The gap year morphs into a couple of years. Jane has relationships with women as well as with Julian, a vet who has PTSD.

Though Fiona and Jane are quite different from one another, they keep circling back to each other. Despite their differences, they have one thing in common: they both have lost their fathers.

In one of the collection’s most moving stories, “The Night Market,” Jane speaks of her visit before she graduated high school to Taiwan where she has come to see her Dad. Her Dad has gone from LA to Taiwan for a temporary job. Jane learns that he’s going to stay in Taiwan because he’s fallen in love with a man there. Her Dad asks her to keep this a secret. But, in her pain at his revelation, she outs him. Jane blames herself for his suicide.

Fiona discovers as a child that she’s never known her father. Her mother raises her on her own.

Over the years, Fiona and Jane bicker, fall distant – then meet again. As teens, they help each other get fake IDs so they can drink. As adults, they help each other through moving apartments, love affairs and mourning.

 “Sixteen years since my father died, and I was still alive,” Jane thinks, “I got up, every morning. I lived, day by day. I had my best friend, Fiona Lin.”

Check out “Fiona and Jane.” Then, text your best friend.

Continue Reading

Books

Seeking love and community in Nicaragua

‘High-Risk Homosexual’ explores author’s youth, coming out

Published

on

(Book cover image courtesy of Soft Skill Press)

High-Risk Homosexual: A Memoir
By Edgar Gomez
c.2022, Soft Skull Press
$16.95/304 pages

Here. Try this.

It fits you, but the color isn’t flattering. It’s too long, too short, too tight, too loose. That’s not your style, so try something else until you find the thing that looks like you. The perfect thing is out there. As in the new book “High-Risk Homosexual” by Edgar Gomez, when something’s right, it’s right.

He was 13 when he figured out that he was a problem to be solved.

Edgar Gomez’ mother had left him in her native Nicaragua with his tíos, just for a while because she had to return to Florida to work. He wasn’t there without her for long, but it took years for him to understand that his time with his uncles was meant to make him more masculine.

In retrospect, he says, nobody wanted him to be a man more than he did. He wanted to be liked by other kids and so he told lies in school to make himself stand out. He wanted his mother to see his love of pretty things and say that it was OK. He wanted his brother to acknowledge that Gomez was gay, and to tell him that he loved him.

Instead, after his brother left for college, Gomez got his first boyfriend, a boy he came out to but who couldn’t come out to himself. He was called names in school. He came out to his mother, who freaked out about it. He befriended a drag queen, but “Princess” used him.

Things he wanted: a real boyfriend. Love. A ban on the stereotype of a macho Latinx man.

Things he still had, while in college: his mother and older brother. A tormentor-turned-mentor. A part-time job. His weirdness. His virginity.

Things he wanted to lose, while in college: his room at his mother’s house. His virginity, but that wouldn’t happen until later, during a painful one-afternoon-stand with a hot man who said he had a girlfriend. That hurt, both physically and emotionally but like so many things at so many times, Gomez tried not to think about it.

If he never considered what he didn’t have, he says, “I wouldn’t miss it.”

In a way, you could say that “High-Risk Homosexual” is a book in search of a point. It’s really quite random and told (mostly) linearly, but not quite. It has its peaks, but also low valleys. And you won’t care about any of this, because you’ll be enjoying every bit of it.

Yeah, this memoir is good: author Edgar Gomez’s literary wandering makes it feel much like an honest conversation with readers. There are wince-worthy moments that allow empathy here, and experiences that are unique but oddly ubiquitous, that leave space for a sense of sympatico. There are passages that are so wistfully uncomfortable that you might squirm, or start “snort-laughing,” or want to stop a moment and just think.

And there’s room for that, too, so take your time. “High-Risk Homosexual” is an affable book with just enough seriousness to make it worth a try.

Continue Reading

Books

A lesbian Baby Boomer’s relatable story

‘Audacity of a Kiss’ a warm, familiar biography

Published

on

The Audacity of a Kiss: A Memoir
By Leslie Cohen
c.2021, Rutgers University Press
$24.95/235 pages

Don’t move.

Stay entirely still, don’t even breathe. You’re about to become a symbol of something that’s bigger than you are, something you’ll be proud of for the rest of your days. Don’t flinch, scratch, or sneeze, just don’t do anything. Don’t. Move. Unless it’s to turn the pages of “The Audacity of a Kiss” by Leslie Cohen.

Behind every statue is a story, and the one behind those representing four people in Christopher Park in New York’s Greenwich Village is no different. But to explain how this monument came about means also telling a long love story and a tale about a nightclub.

Leslie Cohen’s mother was her very best friend, although there were misunderstandings in the relationship. Seven-year-old Leslie couldn’t see why she received pink girly things for her birthday. In later years, she couldn’t understand why her mother deferred to Leslie’s father and endured his abuse.

The one thing Cohen did understand was that once puberty hit, the boys in her neighborhood were no longer pals to roughhouse with. She was supposed to want to date them and it didn’t entirely make sense, but Cohen went along with it even after she left home for college. She went out with boys and lost her virginity to one, but meeting Beth was the most remarkable thing about higher learning. She was sure she was in love with Beth, but Beth was obsessed with a boy and so Cohen moved on.

She moved on to other men and then women, at a time when women loving women was unthinkable, and the Summer of Love. Cohen embraced her lesbianism, fell in and out of love, and went into a partnership with three other women to open New York’s first lesbian club, where lesbians and straight feminists were welcome to dance and drink.

To be sure, it was a heady time. Cohen worked nonstop, gained confidence and learned to run a bar business. She was busy, but happy.

And then Beth came back into her life.

Let’s face it: author Leslie Cohen’s life story is basically like that of a lot of lesbians born at the beginning of the Baby Boom. A solid childhood, confusion, self-awareness, entrepreneurship all make a somewhat familiar story set apart by one abundant thing: warmth.

Indeed, “The Audacity of a Kiss” is an easy tale. It’s comfortable, like a crackling fireplace and a glass of wine on a cushy sofa.There are accomplishments here, told so that you really share the pride in them. Readers are shown the struggle that Cohen had, too, but experiences are well-framed by explanations of the times in which they occurred, with nothing overly dramatic – just the unabashed truth, and more warmth. Opening this book, in a way, then, is like accepting an invitation to own the recliner for an evening, and you won’t want anything else.

Younger lesbians will get a lot from this book, but anyone who’s been there will relish it. Get “The Audacity of a Kiss,” then sit down and don’t move.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular