David Levithan has written a novella about a love affair that’s composed entirely of dictionary entries. A young couple meet online, have sex, move in together (but keep their possessions separate). He’s insecure; she drinks too much; they argue. To find out whether they work out their problems and stay together, you’ll have to thumb through his Dictionary.
curriculum vitae, n.
When Levithan’s persona ponders aging, he realizes that a career isn’t work but love. “When I die, your memories of me will be my greatest accomplishment,” he says. “Your memories will be my most lasting impression.”
Back-to-back entries on “yearning” and “yell” portray love as a garden stroll among landmines.
gems, n. plu.
With so many entries lasting only a sentence, the concept devolves into snapshots. How can jumbled anecdotes portray an entire relationship? But then, every so often, Levithan provides an insight: “There has to be a moment at the beginning when you wonder whether you’re in love with the person or in love with the feeling of love itself,” he says. “If the moment doesn’t pass, that’s it — you’re done.”
Levithan’s persona is such a worrywart, sometimes you just want to slap him. From early in the relationship: “I was still scared by every gap in our conversation, fearing that this was it, the point where we had nothing left to say.”
He captures the queasy opposition of comforter and comforted: “I don’t want to be the strong one,” he says, “but I don’t want to be the weak one, either.”
When are you most in love? Just before the two of you split up? Or when you reconcile? Or does it arrive later, when you take a long-term view of the meaning of love? Maybe you never find out.