David Levithan is one of my favorite authors because he writes as if he’s not afraid of what anyone thinks, and, in doing so, comes up with the most beautifully simple and touching stories. If I’m not mistaken, everything David Levithan has previously written has been labeled as teen, and ‘The Lover’s Dictionary’ is his first adult novel.
This book is a dictionary, of sorts- each chapter is a letter, in alphabetical order, and each section within the chapter is a word that starts with this letter. Each word corresponds to a bit of writing which furthers the story- some of the words have a few pages of interaction between the characters, others are introspection, and some are just a few sentences describing a feeling or thought. As you read more and more of these shorts, the story of a couple, who meet and fall in love, then have some problems, develops.
When I first read the synopsis for this book, I was disappointed. It just sounds like something that would feel forced or fake. I should know by now, though, that David Levithan doesn’t do anything because he has to, or because he thinks it would be ‘cool’ or might sell a lot of copies because it’s ‘artsy.’ It seems to me at least, that he writes because he loves to do it, because he has valid and true emotions and ideas to express, and it all works for him because he’s amazingly good at it. I don’t know how he wrote this book, whether he picked the words and wrote around them, or wrote the stories and then added the words and dictionary theme, but whatever he did, it never feels forced. It always comes across as natural and honest, and although you never know the name of the narrator, or even the gender of the other person in the relationship, you really get to know them. You don’t know their age or what they do for work, but you get a real sense of their ideas and emotions, and what they’re going through in the relationship. Their story is at once unique and universally understandable, and the author does a fantastic job of making us, as readers, see and feel this. It’s such a fresh, almost unbelievable way to create realistic characters, but it works.
When I started reading this, I was expecting words in ‘The Lover’s Dictionary’ to be things like ‘sweet’ and ‘breathtaking’ and ‘gentle,’ things that make you think of a romance. And there are times when these expected words show up. More often though, words that you wouldn’t expect, but that describe things even more perfectly, appear. ‘Contiguous’ and ‘paleontology’ and ‘fledging,’ and words like that, words that you’d think had nothing to do with relationships, are used, and they make everything more believable and more real and just more interesting.