I don’t usually go for romantic works, but The Lover’s Dictionary is definitely a sweet little book. It’s poignant and beautifully written, and somehow manages to capture the complex and complicated thing we call love.
The story is told from the male protagonist’s perspective, through a series of dictionary entries. I wouldn’t call it radically experimental, but it’s definitely non-traditional in format. Levithan’s language is absolutely beautiful. His prose evokes deep emotions through passages that seem, at face value, rather simple. Take this entry:
“I want my books to have their own shelves,” you said, and that’s how I knew it would be okay to live together.” (22)
It’s so simple, but when you pair it with the word “autonomy” and think of it in light of everything that could mean for a relationship, it’s really quite lovely. Of course, Levithan also evokes negative emotions as well. The entry for livid is especially powerful, and after several impassioned and rage-filled lines it ends, “You went and broke our lives. You are so much worse than a cheater. You killed something. And you killed it when its back was turned” (135). Suffice it to say The Lover’s Dictionary will move you.
It’s not a book about how perfect love is, or even about how happy love makes you when you find it. It’s a book about how loving someone changes your life, in wonderful ways and in painful ways. Since the relationship depicted in the book is plagued by addiction and infidelity, there is a lot of pain in this book. But there’s also a lot of joy. Vivid sweetness crops up in the most surprising places, and there’s humor as well. An example: under kerfluffle, Levithan writes simply, “From now on you are only allowed one drink at any of my office parties. One. Preferably a beer” (129). It’s funny, even though it’s also sad and a little bit dark. There’s a lot of that in this book.
GOOD FOR: Readers in search of a quick read; anyone looking for a well-written love story that isn’t canned; people who appreciate the beautiful things language can accomplish.
BAD FOR: Cynics; people who really want that happily-ever-after; fans of a traditional novel.