Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #82: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

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While it’s meant to be a single cohesive work, The Lover’s Dictionary almost functions better as a series of unrelated snapshots. It didn’t occur to me that these snippets, told as definitions, were pieces of the larger puzzle that is these two characters’ relationship, and I liked it less following that realization. Comprehensive as it tries to be, covering moments from every stage in their relationship, it’s not nearly comprehensive enough.

Each definition is like its own entity that I can’t quite reconcile with all the others. None of them seem to slot together like the should, minus the ones that are clearly meant to follow one another, part of the same moment in time. I could legitimately believe it as a re-imagining, of sorts, of Levithan’s latest novel,Every Day. The players remain the same, but each time they’re marginally different, as if each moment takes place in its own separate universe.

This is the byproduct of Levithan’s undying desire to be the most ambitious fella on the block when he doesn’t quite have the talent to support those ambitions, as his contribution to Will Grayson, Will Grayson goes to prove. The Lover’s Dictionary is one of his better experiments, but it never exceeds being just that, an experiment.

It’s by no means a failed experiment. There were numerous occasions where I was nearly moved to tears because his writing had hit too close to home. Numerous lines that deserve to be reblogged into infinity over on tumblr. However, it feels like a dishonest one. Or, in other words, an insincere one, like all of them. There’s that same “aren’t I clever?” attitude that comes along with all of his books. He seems incapable of telling it to us straight.

In Boy Meets Boy, he has to make the setting an LGBT paradise. In Every Day, he’s more enamored with his concept than the story he’s using it to tell, having a little too much fun with the body hopping, as well as with the well-worn stereotypes. In Are We There Yet?, it can’t just be a story of two brothers making up, it has to all occur over the span of a single, short vacation.

His novels always feel more in service to the concept than the characters. Maybe if he started shifting his focus, stopped trying to be so annoyingly clever all the time, his concepts would work, feel more natural than manufactured. Not that he’ll ever do that; this is one writer I don’t expect will ever change his spots. Yet I’ll continue reading him in the hopes that, one day, he will.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.