FIND ME by André Aciman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 272 pp., $27)
Perhaps the most memorable moment from both Andre Aciman’s 2007 novel "Call Me By Your Name" and the 2017 film adaptation by Luca Guadagnino is when Elio Perlman, the 17-year-old protagonist, and Sami, Elio’s archaeologist father, discuss the true, romantic nature of Elio’s relationship with Oliver, the graduate student who assists Sami with research and with whom Elio has a passionate affair. It’s a moment in both the novel and the film that upturns expectations and celebrates a parent’s unconditional support and acceptance. In Aciman's new sequel "Find Me," Sami permits himself the same generosity.
The first novel was set in 1983 and, unlike the film, leapt 20 years into the future where Oliver is married with two sons and Sami has died. "Find Me" reveals the events that unfolded during the 20 years in between, beginning 10 years after the central story of young Elio and Oliver, a decade before Sami’s death.
The short, spare "Find Me" is arranged — composed, if you will, like the music it explores — into four parts: “Tempo,” “Cadenza,” “Capriccio” and “Da Capo.” In “Tempo,” Sami has his own whirlwind, if not implausible, courtship with a photographer half his age named Miranda. (“She loves fiercely, no holds barred,” Sami ruminates.) In “Cadenza,” Elio, now 27 and a classical pianist, has a profound tryst with a man twice his age named Michael, while pining for Oliver. In “Capriccio,” Oliver, saddled with the wife and sons, fantasizes about a threesome with a man and woman, while pining for Elio.
At the extreme end of the novel, on page 249, Elio and Oliver are reunited, back on the Mediterranean of their gossamer memories. Sami is long dead but fondly regarded by both men as they dare to imagine what their lives could have been had they stayed together all those decades ago. Together, Elio and Oliver consider the Poseidonians, the remaining Alexandrian Greeks, their hosts and their would-be home. Sami, forever hovering, would have called it the vigil, a concept he and Elio meditate on throughout the story.
Except for its final pages, "Find Me" is not about Elio and Oliver. A novel shouldn’t be criticized for what it’s not, but rather for what it is. Aciman is interested in transcending the chasms between generations and locating the bridges that allow for intimacy and surprising points of entry. It’s about the thrill of meeting someone new and allowing for flashes of unapologetic excitement and possibly joy, even while dreading attachment for fear of loss.
Like "Call Me By Your Name," "Find Me" is about “The blotchy makeup of human psychology.” Aciman examines the loneliness to which none of us is immune. People in his universe are refreshingly sexually fluid, rejecting arbitrary binaries, finding attraction to the soul, never merely the body. “The libido accepts all currencies. No one ever goes bankrupt borrowing someone else’s pleasure. We go bankrupt when we want no one," says Oliver. It’s the longing for the unattainable that absorbs. In one of the most poignant scenes, Michael quotes Louis Aragon, the early 20th century French poet: “By the time we learn to live, it’s already too late.”
Aciman compassionately captures the achingly delicate, barely discernible feelings and observations exchanged between people, be it strangers on a train or couples who’ve been together—or apart—for decades. He is a master of approximating the unsaid sentiments, of stating the ineffable sensations in plain language, in terms of universal understanding. The storytelling may be swift and breezy, but the ideas and psychological truthfulness are deep. It is a tender and quiet story. Aciman exercises considerable restraint with his prose and dialogue in this respect.
With descriptive elegance, attention to cultural detail and emphasis on decorum, Aciman’s style and sensibilities invite favorable comparison to Edmund White. "Find Me" is a story told through conversations. Characters are revealed through unexpected, even awkward confrontations. They are further developed through reflections on those alarmingly open and frank exchanges.
As the four parts intimate, music runs through the novel. It is a story about musicians, music lovers, musical histories and cultures, and written with lyricism. “Music doesn’t change us,” says Bach to Oliver in a dreamy, drunken fantasy. “Instead, it reminds us of who we are.”
"Find Me" is also a story about what’s come before us. As he did with "Call Me By Your Name," Aciman finds thoughtful parallels and metaphors between aging and antiquity, common ground between missed opportunities and mysterious artifacts under investigation. It is the book’s central theme: “The passage of time and the rediscovery of a beloved person.”