David Levinthan’s new novel The Lover’s Dictionary is a short and mostly sweet look at an anonymous relationship from A to Z, literally. Levinthan employs an interesting narrative style by taking words in order from a dictionary to depict the relationship of two nameless lovers. The author recounts a relevant aspect of the couple’s relationship to define each term.
Told from the perspective of the male in the relationship, The Lover’s Dictionary is tinged with a bit of darkness but also poignancy and nostalgia. We learn of how the couple met, their personal quirks and histories, the singular moments that make their relationship unique. At the same time, there is a universality to the story which speaks to the uncertainties of new love, the struggles inherent in committing to spend your life with another person, the incomparable pleasures of true and deep companionship. It is this story’s ability to seem at once both familiar and ubiquitous that is particularly intriguing and engrossing.
Despite the somewhat choppy style, the story flows with relative ease from word to word. Though some of the terms offer glimpses of specific moments from this relationship, they aren’t presented in chronological order. At other times general feelings or commentaries on love on offered after the defined word. Despite the anachronisms and varying points of focus, Levinthan never confuses or deserts his readers, though he may try to mislead them.
Though not a particularly arduous read, I did really appreciate The Lover’s Dictionary during the short time it took for me to complete the novel (though it clocks in at 211 pages, I finished reading it in under an hour’s time). Some scenes I could particularly relate to, while others evoked only sympathy or strong feeling. But all throughout I felt that Levithan offered a very fresh perspective on relationships by getting into both the gritty stuff of love and the more sentimental aspects of it. At countless points throughout, I felt compelled to dog-ear a page for revisiting later because of the great eloquence and wisdom with which the author remarked on love.
This book is not one for the cynics, nor is it your standard boy-meets-girl love story. Rather, Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary defines the myriad emotions contained within the vastness of love through the clever examination and close analysis of a single relationship.