I have always felt that literature and music go together; almost contingent on one another. In whatever action I perform, there is usually music accompanying me. Want me to do the dishes? You are going to have to deal with me listening to whatever song or band that I am currently into. I don’t like the thought of sitting on the train during my morning commute without my ear buds blasting something into my brain. It is the very same with reading. I usually have music playing while I am reading, it helps transport me into the moment. It was no different when I read and finished my first two books of 2018.
The music that I listened to when reading both books used their melodies to break me and their crescendos to help pick me back up, along with every sentence strung together. I’ll list some of the music I listened to throughout this entry.
My first endeavor of the new year was Hide by Matthew Griffin. The second, Call Me by Your Name by Andre Aciman. Some would try to paint the similarities between these two novels but for me, it was in the ways that they were different that made them a perfect pair. Reading them back to back was truly a pleasure.
First, their similarities. Both are tales of Gay Male characters. From there, it is their differences that make them shine. Hide is Griffin’s debut, published in 2016 and is the tale of Wendell and Frank, who meet after WWII when Frank returns home from overseas. The story is fragmented, my favorite technique of a novelist who wants to show the whole picture. Snippets of their growing friendship and realization of their feelings for one another are intertwined with snapshots of their lives together as old men.
As Frank stoically suffers from complications with his health, Wendell frets over him in the only way that he knows, nagging and reprimanding him for his lifestyle choices, his eating habits and his need to always be working on his garden, when he should be resting in bed. Cooking for him constantly even though Frank doesn’t want any of it. They speak to each other in the way you would expect any old couple to speak, biting wit and judgement. The glimpse of their lives in their twenties makes their situation more painful because you know what is coming in the end. You are watching along with Wendell as Frank begins to deteriorate.
The first song that stuck out to me when reading this novel was The Village by Wrabel. The words and feeling of the song weaved themselves perfectly into the emotion of the book. Being the time that the book is set in, both men decide that if they want to be together they are going to have to leave town. They move into a house, don’t give their families their new address, cut out everyone. They don’t go anywhere together in all their years. They drive separately to the grocery store and when they speak in the aisles, it’s only the kind of pleasantries you would offer to a stranger. That in of itself is one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the whole story, they lived and loved together; but apart. Constantly worried about how their behaviors looked to people on the outside, scared of giving anything away.
I also listened to A LOT of the National while reading this book, because most of their music tends to elevate any scene that it goes along with. Songs like About Today and Slow Show. I was nervous, reading the last twenty pages or so because I felt that I knew how it was going to end. I knew it was going to hurt, I was pleasantly surprised but it still hurt so good. I am definitely going to need more to read from Matthew Griffin, the understated ease in which he paints the picture of real love…I couldn’t get enough of it.
Fair warning for anyone who decides to pick it up and give it a try: there is some unexpected graphic scenes of animal violence that truly caught me off guard when I read it. I had to put the book down and try not to cry on public transportation. It didn’t change my opinions on the book but god damn…I didn’t see it coming. I’m not usually one for trigger warnings but I have a lot of friends who like dogs.
In 2013, I picked up a book called Harvard Square by Andre Aciman. I liked it, enjoyed his prose and the way he interweaves two very different lives into one friendship. I put it back on my shelf and didn’t think too much of it. Flash forward to now, 2018. I keep hearing ‘Call Me by Your Name…best movie ever…so beautiful. Better than the book!’ Sorry lady on the train, but that is a challenge waiting to be explored. I rarely find a film that is better than its source material. I googled the book and realized that it was by Andre Aciman, written years before Harvard Square. How had I missed it? So, I bought the book and awaited its arrival.
I don’t think I could have read the book any faster than I did when it arrived on my doorstep. I practically absorbed it into my skin.
Narrated by the 17-year old Elio, the book takes places in 1987 in Northern Italy. Each summer his parents host a doctoral student to help with his father’s work and to revise their own thesis. Oliver, the bright and confident 24-year old Jewish American is this summer’s guest. The book follows Elio’s ever evolving feelings towards the man who now resides in his bedroom. Whether Elio is showing Oliver around the nearby town or it’s just a lazy summer morning, lounging beside the water, the picture is painted so beautifully. As each day floats past, Elio and Oliver’s friendship shape shifts into something more and you begin to feel the pangs of a romance that you know is going to have to end when Oliver is due to go back to the United States.
Anyone who has been 17 before will understand the incredible pull of desire for someone new; an intense crush for someone who seems inaccessible. Also, has felt the confusion and pain of trying to make sense of your own feelings and wants and needs. While Elio grapples with his budding sexual desires he also comes to an understanding about himself. He likes his girlfriend, Marzia but finds himself wishing to be in Oliver’s company. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone but, like he states while with Oliver for the first time, he feels like he’s come home. Being with Oliver is like being home; it feels right.
Throughout the story, the two spend more and more time together until the summer ends. They spend a whirlwind three final days in Rome, just the two of the them and when they part, it’s just as heart breaking as you expect it to be. Since Elio is the narrator of the story, you know and understand everything that he feels. With Oliver, you only know as much as he’s willing to share with Elio – you don’t even know his last name. It makes you as a reader feel just as intimately towards Oliver as Elio does. You see in him what Elio sees. You long for him as Elio longs and pines and fantasizes. Trust me, you’ll never look at a peach the same again once you see it through Elio’s young, imaginative eyes.
I imagined that the novel would end where the film does; the parting at the end of summer. I am so glad I was wrong. You see Oliver again the next winter. Then again fifteen years later. Again, twenty years later. Short snap shots of who Oliver is in his forties and how much Elio still feels for him. Older, married with a family but still his Oliver. While I read the final few pages, taking in every detail of this stunning book; feeling chills running down my arms, a song came on my Spotify: This Is Us Colliding by Talos. Its chorus echoed the words, “Our love bore the wildest sea, this is us colliding.” A passage broke me in two:
“Did I have a spot?”, he asked with a half grin.
“You’ll always have a spot”.
I wanted to tell him that the pool, the garden, the house, the orle of paradise, the whole place, would always be his ghost spot. Instead, I pointed upstairs to the French windows of his room. Your eyes are forever there, I wanted to say, trapped in the sheer curtains, staring out from my bedroom upstairs where no one sleeps these days. When there’s a breeze and they swell and I look up from down here or stand outside on the balcony, I’ll catch myself thinking that you’re in there, staring out from your world to my world, saying, as you did on that one night when I found you on the rock, I’ve been happy here. You’re thousands of miles away but no sooner do I look at this window than I’ll think of a bathing suit, a shirt thrown on on the fly, arms resting on the banister, and you’re suddenly there, lighting up your first cigarette of the day — twenty years ago today. For as long as the house stands, this will be your ghost spot — and mine too, I wanted to say.
I was so glad that I was reading alone in my living room at that point.
This was it, a book I had always dreamed of reading. The kind of book that I had been hoping to write myself and here it was in my lap. Music washing over me and bringing me into Elio’s moments of bliss and sadness. I would be alright never reading another book again for the rest of my life. I know that I will read another but if I didn’t, I would be okay.
So, no, Train Lady, the book is still better. The cosmic rule of the book always being better still stands. The film was epic and beautiful and perfect and sensual and melancholic but the book moves on past what the movie goer sees. You can relish in the fact that their love and affection for one another doesn’t last only a summer.
Other musical suggestions for CMBYN:
Brother by Kodaline
Cinnamon by Jome
These two books were perfect bookends to an otherwise stale and ordinary January. A story about growing old and reflecting on all the actions of your life; how deteriorating health can force you to rethink the choices that you have made throughout your life. A story of love and sexual awakening in the most unexpected place. I found literature that tugged at my heartstrings and a story that I will carry with me for the rest of my days. I can’t wait to see what I read in February.