Review: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: December 26 to 28, 2014
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: a gift from coworkers
Recommended for: people in new relationships

It’s been a long time since a book made me cry. This book didn’t make me cry. It just reminded me that I haven’t cried over fiction since Charlotte’s Web. That was some time ago, but a good feeling to remember.

Simply put, this book is an interesting way to tell a modern love story (from a writer’s perspective), and an interesting way to see vocabulary words in new ways (from a reader’s) while you watch different aspects of a relationship come together, stay together, fall apart, and then go through these stages again. If you’re not currently in love or involved with someone special, this book might seem a tad overbearing and overwrought, rather than meaningful or fascinating. Three guesses which camp I’m in. 😀

Clearly I’m not the right audience for this book and I might’ve picked it up at an inconvenient time which is too bad because I do like the way David Levithan uses words. He has a nice way with them. His prose is simple, light, smooth, and occasionally a line or two can pack a punch when the story calls for it. And there’s clever use of biting humor that’s just shy of passive-aggression. Just the way I like my contemporary fiction to be, so it really is too bad that this book and I didn’t hit it off. Maybe if I’d read it 10 years ago, when I’d been a bit more idealistic and optimistic about romantic outcomes, these lovely words and phrases might’ve had an impact. Now? Now processing these things takes me back to that time years ago and I get to reminisce and… and that’s it. It does nothing more for me now, which is too bad.

Clearly I’m not the right audience for this book, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t well written, not to mention clean and thoughtfully compartmentalized. It’s as clean and compartmentalized as relationships are messy and overwhelming. The whole thing is lovingly crafted, I think, which shows in the care Levithan has for his word choices. I can go on about it, but I’ll just show you instead.

lover's dictionary - arrears
lover's dictionary - covet

lover's dictionary - ersatz

lover's dictionary - exemplar

lover's dictionary - ineffable

lover's dictionary - leery

Levithan puts words together with such ease. I really wish I could’ve liked this book more. Maybe 10 years from now I’ll read it again at a different place in my life and will like it more.


On a semi-related note, I saw Gone Girl over the weekend. Didn’t like the book, but thought the movie was decent, with the exception of Ben Affleck who will always be Ben Affleck in whatever role he tries to bring to life. Some of us are just blessed/cursed to forever be ourselves, I suppose.

Anyhow. As I was going over review notes I took for The Lover’s Dictionary, it dawned on me that this book is the life Nick and Amy Dunne must’ve had before they married and everything went to hell. In this life before marriage, both Nick and Amy seem happier with themselves and each other, and that’s what the tone of Dictionary reminds me of most, the easy pleasantry of dating. For more similarities, I’d point to the unnamed narrator and Nick Dunne sharing a similar POV; both are usually sitting on the sidelines as they watch and react to things happening to them. Instead of acting upon these things or taking control as they spiral out of their grasps, they watch and then react.

The moment I realized the unnamed narrator and Nick Dunne are one and the same and that the person they’re dating is Amy was this line:

I can’t help but admire your capacity for creative vengeance. And at the same time, I am afraid of it.


2 thoughts on “Review: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

  1. thebookgator December 30, 2014 / 5:48 pm

    Nice review, and interesting connection to Gone Girl. “Blessed/cursed to forever be ourselves.” Heh.


    • 1stavenue January 5, 2015 / 8:04 am

      Thanks! The connection is glaring now that I see the parallels between Levithan’s and Flynn’s characterization choices; it really does look like both authors had the same two characters in mind when they were writing. Or maybe these two characters are popular tropes of contemporary fiction.

      As for the blessed/cursed thing lol…I was just fed up with “skilled” Hollywood actors not being able to shed their A-list personas long enough to get into their roles.


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