During the summer, I teach a long, nerdy fiction course to teenagers that spans ten-weeks and saps almost all of my energy. Coming home to mega-novels like David Foster Wallace’s “Pale King” and Martin Amis’ “Pregnant Widow” has been way too intense. Most nights, I just want to tuck those giant volumes under my tired head and snooze. What I’ve realized: during the summer, I need the perfect combination of light and devastatingly good to remind me of what I really love about fiction.
David Levithan’s slender little novel “The Lover’s Dictionary” is totally perfect. Written in dictionary-style excerpts, the story spans a relationship from conception to heartbreak and back to the beginning. The characters, genderless and frank and articulate, create and destroy a relationship not in order, but in fragments. This is how I remember things, and this is the way I dream of one day writing. Check Levithan’s tweet-feed here, and take note of a writer (usually a young-adult guy, author of Nick and Nora, etc) who manages to school us with definitions of words like abyss or blemish, each a small scene from the love affair, all of them gorgeous. Take this:
“I don’t normally do this kind of thing,” you said. "Neither do I,“ I assured you. Later it turned out we had both met people online before, and we had both slept with people on first dates before, and we had both found ourselves falling too fast before. But we comforted ourselves with what we really meant to say, which was: "I don’t normally feel this good about what I’m doing.” Measure the hope of that moment, that feeling. Everything else will be measured against it.