IRJE: Call Me By Your Name (June 1st)

In Call Me By Your Name, by André Aciman,  Elio’s love for Oliver is composed of desire, shame, and envy. This coming-of-age novel is set in Northern Italy, in 1983, when the stigma and shame surrounding the LGBTQ+ community was still prevalent. Oliver is an American graduate student, staying with the Perlmans for a summer to finish his manuscript, alongside the esteemed Professor Perlman (Elio’s father). Oliver is older, more experienced, more confident in himself. Elio looks up to his nonchalance and “human experience”, although that cool, dismissive facade can simultaneously push Elio into a vicious cycle of insanity and longing. Oliver knows himself, which truly intimidates Elio. He, on the other hand, is still attempting to determine his identity, which is why he significantly struggles to show his feelings without shame. Eventually, in a moment of strength, or perhaps a moment of weakness, Elio opens up to Oliver.

“Do you like me that much, Elio?”

“Do I like you?” I wanted to sound incredulous, as though to question how he could ever have doubted such a thing. But then I thought better of it and was on the point of softening the tone of my answer with a meaningful evasive Perhaps that was supposed to mean Absolutely, when I let my tongue loose: “Do I like you, Oliver? I worship you.” There, I’d said it. I wanted the word to startle him and to come like a slap in the face so that it might be instantly followed with the most languorous caresses. What’s liking when we’re talking about worshipping? (p. 103)

I worship you. Elio looks at Oliver, and sees everything he wants to be. Yet, it surpasses that. The idea behind the title, Call Me By Your Name, is that the two men are able to use their names interchangeably, because they complete one another. Oliver is Elio’s other half, which justifies the desire and envy. During the novel, they both describe the other as, “better than me,” proving their reciprocated appreciation. Oliver is Elio’s missing piece, and vice versa. To understand this love is to experience it, and reading this novel is as close as I have ever come. Elio’s narration is intimate, detailed, compassionate, and emotional. I am able see what he sees, think what he thinks, and feel what he feels. Presently, I am unsure whether I believe in soulmates. I believe in love, chemistry, and passion. I also believe that relationships take continual effort; they don’t necessarily just work out because you love someone. Despite that, reading the love between Elio and Oliver pushed me closer to the belief that soulmates do exist, but that it is rare to find, and difficult to maintain. Elio and Oliver met in a time where they were forced apart due to the circumstances, societal pressures, and the fleeting time they had. Therefore, I must wonder, would their love have stayed this strong in ideal circumstances? Or, did the societal pressures and fleeting time only increase the intensity of their love?