The Lover's Dictionary
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Note: This post contains a lot of curse words.
I hate concept books. I hate books that seem to have a gimmick to them like this one. I hated, hated the idea behind this novel: a relationship told through the format of a dictionary. Concept books are hit-and-miss for me. The author either screws it up really bad because it's a really bad idea, or the author pulls it off and makes me question how the fuck they did it.
David Levithan's The Lover's Dictionary falls into the latter part of the category. How the fuck did he pull this off? Why is this so good? It's so short, most pages are just one line, and neither character is ever given a name but all the emotion of a full blown 600 page novel is here. So how the fuck did he do it?
I had to go back to English class in high school in my head to completely understand what I had just experienced. I was trying to remember a very short story from a genre called flash fiction. My teacher attributed the brilliant little snippet to Ernest Hemingway.* The entire story is "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn."
That story was a kick to the gut the first time I read it. You don't have to have a character name to experience what that person must have been through. It's just six words. Six very powerful words.
The Lover's Dictionary is flash fiction told over and over again. It's little snippets of a relationship told out of order. We see the beginning, the ending, and the middle. We see the sex, the romance, the first kiss, etc. All of them told in a flash and all of them receiving a different kind of response from the reader: happiness, sadness, empathy, etc.
There's an episode of the show How I Met Your Mother where a character named Ted puts on red cowboy boots and proclaims "I can totally wear these!" And everyone tell hims "No. You can't pull those off. Sorry." It's not until Ted gets to the West Village in New York City that he's told "You're totally pulling those off." The Lover's Dictionary totally pulls off the fucking dictionary concept. It's going to live on my nightstand for a while.
Full Disclosure: I purchased this from Amazon.
*I can't find any sources that say for certain that this is Hemingway's work. If anyone could provide me with a credible reference I would appreciate it.
Update: Snopes shows that the story cannot be attributed to Ernest Hemingway.