Andre Aciman offers a sequel to his 2007 blockbuster Call Me By Your Name, adapted into a critically acclaimed film with the same name in 2017, in the form of Find Me. Dreamy landscapes of a small Italian seaside town, a swoonworthy romance between the protagonist Elio and Oliver – interspersed with philosophy, poetry and Bach on the piano, all of which I wished I could have understood but was content with not being able to – characterised Call Me by Your Name.
The book ended with a heartbreak in Rome, which left the reader’s stomach twisting with some unknown pain that we didn’t know was possible, at least I never did. For some, the book was a crash course on the art of dialogue that they would like to deliver, but were mesmerised when they came from Elio and Oliver.
But what happened afterwards? Did they ever recover from their heartbreak? Readers sure didn’t. So where does the sequel pick up the story and where does it take it? Or does it do any of these things at all?
Find Me is set a decade or so after Oliver left Elio. We find Samuel, Elio’s father, in a train en route to his son. Time has moved on, and so has Find Me, as it seems in its structure. The book is most likely to disappoint those eagerly waiting to see where Elio and his lover Oliver stand with each other, since the majority of the novel concerns them separately, or not at all. But the streets of Rome remain, to set the stage for encounters with people we know and some we don’t.
“Tempo”: So long
This section occupies the majority of the novel. It is the story of Samuel and his lover Miranda – a woman almost as young as his son, whom he meets in the train. That encounter happens in the morning, leading to lunch in the afternoon at her place. By the time they’re in bed at night, Miranda is weeping about how she wants to have his baby.
She is a drop-dead gorgeous woman who dresses like she doesn’t know she is pretty (but she does know), and makes shallow and forgettable observations on life, but Samuel is somehow taken by this. Now a divorced professor, he is in a constantly melancholic state, reminiscing about his marriage, an affair, and his lost chance at love.
The character of Samuel had a monologue in the film version of Call Me By Your Name, which fans had interpreted as his way of coming out to his son. Since then Aciman has responded that wasn’t what he meant. This new book seems partly like a response to the fans claiming Samuel was maybe queer, but a problem arises when the response runs for 117 pages.
Samuel and Miranda are deeply infatuated with each other, and hence we are continually served details of how enchanting they are, without actually ever feeling the same way. Samuel walks with Miranda through the same streets of Rome that Elio and Oliver once did, but then you find yourself asking: Are these the same streets though?
Aciman tries to establish the ritualistic significance of vigils that father and son share. These vigils are often at places associated with their romantic pasts, basically spots where they hooked up with others who were shells for human beings, with oddly specific remembered details. Here these encounters seem more autobiographical than fictional, with the age difference making it almost creepy.
When these two are speaking about sexual or romantic experiences, some questions keep popping up: Is this what love feels like? Or is this the result of the author’s wildest fantasies? Through the characters’ distant charms we are led up to the moment when Mirands calls Samuel’s penis a “lighthouse” and he names her vagina a “fig”. And in Miranda’s words, this is who they’ll be – “all cum and juices”. But why?
Perhaps the answers to all these questions remain hidden in psychoanalysis, but for everyone’s welfare one must not trudge on those dark paths. Or maybe, following Samuel’s cue, I don’t know what to say, “so I quoted Goethe again.”
“Cadenza”: Ghosts of free will
The perspective then shifts to Elio, who is now romantically engaged with Michel, a Paris-based lawyer twice his age. They meet at a classical music concert, flirt and bond over their fathers, who were instrumental in stirring their respective musical interests. The story then progresses with Michel talking about his dreams as a child, his father, his family’s relation to the Holocaust, single-malt whiskey and “your generation”.
In this romance lies the traces of the nervous anticipation that Elio felt when he was in love with Oliver, but the readers’ experience now is similar to that of someone trying to swat a mosquito with their palms, only to realise that it has escaped and flown away.
Elio’s attempts at playing the detective trying to find a lost musician, possibly a Jew killed during the Holocaust, are feeble and almost pointless. The only joy lies in random facts about Beethoven, Mozart and the Walstein which the reader now knows and is almost charmed by.
Perhaps all this is Elio’s call for help, for his innocence and accessibility are long lost in the memories of Call Me By Your Name, and will never be found in Find Me.
“Capriccio”: Is absolute freedom really absolute?
This section is from the perspective of Oliver – who never really got over Elio and who enjoys the breeze from the river Hudson. We see him at a party where he and his wife are the host, and find him lusting after two people, in both of whom he sees shades of Elio. But he doesn’t really care about them as individuals.
At this point the novel looks like a DIY about how to make do with what you have. Samuel, sad after losing his chance at love, is now embracing Miranda. Elio is trying to find Oliver through Michel. And Oliver is trying to find Elio, or rather, his characteristics, in other people.
The world outside is largely muted out, so as to emphasise on the lives of these people and their encounters with love. This approach worked in Call Me By Your Name, but now it is just too many people, too many stories left incomplete, too much that is vague, wispy and unfulfilling.
The large chunk of the novel involving Samuel and Miranda seems like a feeble attempt by the author to be a wingman for Samuel, helping him to find love, or at least settle for a substitute. At least in this book, they seem the same thing.
This so-sequel seems to have completely freed itself from its past, and tries to create a narrative where the journey is the point and not the destination. But in trying to weave a story out of Elio and Oliver’s quest to find each other, it is highly possible that Aciman has lost the reader.
It novel ends with only 11 pages dedicated to Elio and Oliver’s love, which can readers who arrived here from Call Me By Your Name, the ones who are pining for the pair to reunite. But one may just have to close the book and say, “Find, yes, but whom? Maybe we will just make do.”
Find Me, André Aciman, Faber & Faber.