The Lover’s Dictionary is one of those books that instantly becomes yours when you’ve finished. It crawls into your heart and tickles your soul, until you feel like you could have written it yourself. It’s the book we all would write if we could find the words. Part of its universality stems from the fact that David Levithan wrote the book with no gender-specific personal pronouns: no “he”s or “she”s to determine the sex of the author’s significant other; it could be a heterosexual couple or a homosexual—the language makes it clear that it doesn’t matter. This literary technique may have to do with Levithan’s own sexuality, but author aside, the book was written with the reader in mind, with the human in mind. It deals with the one of the most common aspects of human existence: love.
The novel takes the form of individual “dictionary” entries that encompass the whole alphabet. From A to Z, there are several words of each letter “defined” by how the author associates them with his significant other. “Arduous” reminds the author of sex, while “livid” sends him into a spiral of despair remembering when he was cheated on. (20,135) Some words spark memories, others conjure old emotions. The author speaks in second person, involving the reader into the relationship directly, reminding us that these feelings, these situations, these memories, are often shared among all people who have loved, or who have been loved.
When I read this book, it took me a total of 98 heart-stopping minutes. For a little over an hour and a half I lay down and was drenched in the beauty and pain of this book. Part of its charm is how unspecific it is; there is no plot, little character, only raw emotion and truth on every page. Levithan’s simple, brilliant prose takes a single moment of life and captures it as if you’re looking at a detailed photograph or a specimen in a jar. At moments, you’ll feel humbled by the truth and power of his words. (And here I am, writing in third person, urging you, whoever you are, to read this book. You will be absolutely entranced.)
The most poignant, heartbreaking entry is, appropriately, the one for love:
I’m not going to even try. (136)
Even though the author shies away from any simple explanation of love, the reader is left with the overwhelming feeling that love has been inexplicably defined within the 211 pages of this slim little gem.
Levithan, D. (2011) The Lover’s Dictionary. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux