Love Lost and Found in 'Call Me By Your Name' Sequel

Illustration by Angel Graves.

     André Aciman never set out to write the next great gay American novel. When he began writing the award-winning Call Me By Your Name, he only had an Italian villa and youthful desire in mind. The author is not one for strategic messaging or grand schemes but rather finding the most direct way to bare his characters to his reader. Call Me By Your Name is widely loved for its thoughtful and unconvoluted offering on first love. The sequel, Find Me, is an equally earnest look into love and loss, and how the two color one another. Though this sequel has received a more mixed critical response than its predecessor, it is a worthy addition to the beloved story and perhaps even a better bit of writing. In Find Me, the lens through which the author views love, heartache, and intimacy is still as candid and rose-colored as readers remember it.

     Those looking for a sequel retreading and rehashing the passions of the previous book are sure to be disappointed. In this follow up, the characters are living and breathing, not beholden to expectations from fans of the first novel. In an era defined by Netflix reboots and fan-fiction bestsellers, Aciman could have pleased a large portion of readers with three hundred pages of callbacks to the predecessor capped off with a sentimental ending. But Aciman is not interested in simply reuniting characters. Rather, he continues their stories organically and without inflated or insular importance. While deeply connected to Call Me By Your Name, the sequel is thematically and stylistically distinct, never veering into the territory of overextended epilogue, as so many follow-ups do.

     Find Me begins ten years after the events of the first book. This time it is not a home on the riviera but a train from Florence to Rome where burgeoning desire is found. Further, it is not Elio, the protagonist of the first book, but his father, Sami, who finds it. Tempo, the first of four parts into which the novel is divided, details the chance meeting between Sami and the much younger Miranda. She is a force of nature, bitingly bold, wielding a sincere vulnerability that is more weapon than meek virtue. In these initial pages, the connection to the first book is recognizable in the passion laden dialogue despite the general absence of the original protagonists. It is not until the second and third sections, respectively, that Elio and Oliver substantially reappear. Even then, the lovers are introduced separately, both with other partners, far removed from the bathing suits and espadrilles of the long-passed summer. While the lack of "Eliver" (a celebrity couple name surely used on reddit) was a source of complaint for some critics, Call Me By Your Name was never about a singular relationship, but intimacy in all forms.

     In Aciman's novels, flirting is more akin to psychological excavation, both exciting and laborious. In both books, there is a through line of intellectual intimacy that is distinct to the author. Elio describes in the first book how his and Oliver's "minds seemed to travel in parallel" and "inferred what words the other was toying with but at the last moment held back." This kind of convergence reappears in Find Me, though this time with a new lover, an example of how these pieces are about intimacy rather than some idealized relationship. Another signature of Aciman's writing is that the romance is never where one expects to find it. Many have noted that the ambiance of Call Me By Your Name largely contributed to the romance of the piece. However, the theme of desire, and the almost primal ways Elio expresses his own, was where the love story transcended the banality that so often stifles true romance. In Find Me, romance is often found in the introspective passages. To that end, this novel reads as a more internalized novel than Call Me By Your Name. Aciman does not set out to describe the ambiance of Paris as he did the buzz of cicadas and scent of the sea in the first book. The inner lives of these characters warrant more description than even the most romanticized city in the world. The love stories in these two books resonate because they are borne in conversations most characters in novels would never have. Aciman is less interested in the idyll surrounding his characters than he is in their hidden selves. And he excavates his characters' buried lives unflinchingly, unafraid of what may be uncovered.

     When asked about sensitive or nuanced subject matter in his books, Aciman offers the better descriptor of "the unconventional." There is no hesitation in the writer to include what some might consider taboo; if it serves the character in his expression, then it is included. His way of softening and humanizing the unorthodox that sometimes toes the line of the obscene is remarkable. It was the peach scene in Call Me By Your Name that would become a marker for the book. This time all produce makes it out unscathed, though there are one or two moments that similarly illustrate Aciman's interest in using the unconventional to tell a truer story. Whether a character shares a sinful secret or seeks sexual fulfillment unorthodoxly, Aciman uses these instances to bring the reader into a more intimate understanding of his characters. The shocking is not included for shock's sake but rather out of a deep understanding of humanity. The author is a sharp-eyed observer who understands both the mundane and surprising in the life of the everyman.

     During an event at the CUNY Graduate Center, the author shared that he is interested in writing what is "in the back of [his character's] minds, not just the front." He added that he tends to trust "verbal signals from the body" over words. His understanding of the limitation of words allows him to employ them to their highest potential. While Find Me is more dialogue driven than Call Me By Your Name, the most profound communication between characters remains in the written embraces, urges, and withholdings. Aciman's ability to capture the welling-up of desire in a character is almost musical. Age and lost time are at the forefront of these characters' minds, and it makes the searing desire at the back of their minds even more arresting. The dialogue, masterful in its sincerity, is the color that brings a sparkling brilliance to the story. Yet, if every spoken line were scratched from the book, the description of aching want and rapturous fulfillment would still be enough.

     Call Me By Your Name is beloved for its immersive and intimate meditation on desire. Find Me is no less focused on this theme, though there is an emphasized focus on loss, both past and future. The desire of Find Me is born of regret, an underlying motif that scores the novel. "Music is the unlived life," he writes, signaling his understanding of the infinite tones of loss, the fixed as well as the tauntingly unfinished. It is no surprise that this piece seems to whisper the same thing throughout with increasing resonance: "Find me." The first book ended with the awareness that all love is inevitably marred by loss. This time Aciman explores where agency over love begins and ends. At the beginning of the novel, his characters have accepted their losses. Throughout the book, they begin to understand not all losses are as final as they seem. What does one do when they are confronted with an unfinished loss? Aciman's characters speak the bravest words to the very object that left them: "Find me, I'm waiting. I've been waiting."

     Those who love Call Me By Your Name, and now Find Me, surely wonder: Does the author himself believe the deep intimacy found in these books is something one could hope for? Or does it only exist in the world of great storytelling? Aciman answered this question over the phone, the sounds of Manhattan competing with his voice. "I hate to sound so pedestrian," he began, "but I think all of us are, in fact, in search of the highest form of intimacy. We don't always find it, we dream of it, but we know it when we recognize it. And it's an amazing and wonderful moment [...] and [we] keep it as long as we can. I don't think it's unreal, it's just that as [with] everything that happens in the life of the heart, it takes time, sometimes, and above all courage." He tells us as much in the book: "Love is easy, it's the courage to love and to trust that matters, and not all of us have both." In Find Me, the years have passed, desire has weathered, but the courage to love remains. 

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