Andre Aciman is a difficult author to pin. His stories traverse through time and place weaving compelling narratives full of longing where a moment can last days and days can be punctuated by just a moment. It’s this sense of longing and fleeting romance where many of his novels begin and end. His sixth novel that was released last fall, “Find Me,” is the much anticipated sequel to the best-selling novel, “Call Me By Your Name.” The story was adapted into the award-winning film in 2018 starring Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, and Michael Stuhlbarg.
“Find Me” takes a different structure than “Call Me By Your Name,” which many fans now abbreviate to simply CMBYN. It was written in four parts much like one of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. The four movements, or vignettes, follow different characters in various points in their lives. Characters from “Call Me By Your Name” take new forms as we glimpse into the later lives of Elio, Sami, and Oliver which begs an existential question. That is, if time itself can create or mold new and unfamiliar characters even though the names remain the same.
Like many of Aciman’s past novels, including the recent “Enigma Variations” (2017), he plays with time dexterously, creating tension, romance, and longing in its wake. It is perhaps the words left unsaid that ring loudest in his stories.
Fellow writer, Louis Augustine Herrera, and I met with the author in New York to discuss not only his new novel, “Find Me,” but also to ask him a few life questions, many of which come to heart in his stories or, in the least, exist as open-ended topics for the reader to ponder. One of those topics that seems to grip and draw readers to his novels is the subject of love; imperfect, random, and unpredictable as it may happen. All kinds of love that is: platonic, familial, romantic. I wanted to know how he approaches such personal and confusing phenomena in his characters.
I was reminded of a quote I came upon by Instagram poet Reuben Holmes who goes by the moniker R.h. Sin. He once declared love as, “two broken people trying to heal each other.” Andre explained that for him, “[Romantic love] is the conjoining of two people into what makes each of their lives relevant.” He tells me of Aristophanes’ famous speech in Plato’s Symposium (c. 385–370 BC) where Aristophanies tells a story at a banquet of how humans were at once two people conjoined. This form was so powerful it threatened the gods and so Zeus had everyone cut in half and hence this is where love comes from. It’s the desire to, literally and metaphorically, find our other half in order to become whole.
I ask Andre then, if this is the case, why is it we can’t like ourselves? He explains, “I don’t think anybody does. I think we don’t like who we are. That’s a dead giveaway. That’s why we want other people because they make us understand that we are worth whatever it is they see in us. And half the time we don’t believe it.”
It’s this strain of watching the possibilities unfold entropically in his stories that strikes a chord with readers. Take the first story, Tempo, in “Find Me,” where Elio’s father, Sami, ten years after the summer depicted in “Call Me By Your Name,” boards a train in Florence to Rome to visit his son. On the train, Sami has a spontaneous encounter with a much younger woman, Miranda, who is on the way to visit her ailing father. Their meeting on a train seems like an innocuous dream at first but their flirtatious banter escalates it into something much more. They attempt to push each other away projecting as many of their insecurities onto one another only to end up together in an unexpected romance during confusing times in both of their lives.
Fear of loss
Why was the fear of loss or disappearance of a loved one such a prominent theme in “Find Me?” Not only is a sense of loss or being lost in the title itself but the theme appears again and again whether between Sami and Elio or Miranda and her dying father or between Miranda and Sami or even Elio and his much older lover, Michel. I ask Andre Aciman why is it that Sami fears Miranda will disappear? She won’t let him out of her sight either because she knows he’ll disappear.
Andre Aciman explains “Yes, Sami is almost tempted to disappear. He keeps saying ‘I have to go back to my hotel room,’ and she says, ‘No, I know you’re going to disappear.’” Andre asks rhetorically, “Isn’t that what we all do?”
Of the four movements in the book, the first strikes me as the most compelling. Perhaps it’s because of the pace of the characters’ rapidly developing affection for each other, an allegro of sorts, or perhaps it’s the seemingly impossibility of the situation. I suggest to Andre that maybe the power of this story comes from the fact that the reader watches two people fall in love in less than twenty-four hours. “Is that even possible?” I wonder.
Andre immediately interjects, “You fall in love the moment you see somebody. You do. You know it right away. You might say to yourself, ‘I’m going to find out who this person really is…’ But you’re already in love. There are circumstances where you recognize the other person instantly. I believe it. I’ve always believed it since I was a kid. You immediately notice somebody. You know, this is it. You also know that the other ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s you trying to coax yourself into liking a person or liking them more than you do.”
Louis brings up another important point about the first part of the book. Every moment of the speaker, Elio’s father, Sami, is accounted for. Nothing is edited. No breaks in time. A certain intimacy develops between the reader and characters because we never leave them for the entirety of the story. Louis posits, “you’re not given a chance to see outside of what they see.”
Andre explains, “I wasn’t interested in finding out what the objective reality is. They’re just transported as it were and I’m going with it. There are things you’re thinking about like when they’re all three walking together, Elio’s nice enough to walk ahead so as not to say, ‘I’m the son. I have precedence over Miranda.’ It was a little thing that threw some objectivity into the situation, but at the same time I didn’t want to be objective. I hate the objective. Who wants to be objective?”
That lack of objectivity caught me off guard when only after reading the story did I analyze the bond between Elio’s father and Miranda as not an unencumbered romance but one spurred by their needs. “Surely Miranda is going through the pain of watching her father dying and is in need of an older man. Why are these obvious circumstances not addressed?” I asked Andre.
“It doesn’t matter if I did address it. It would become a clinical look at the situation. She could ask herself and tell him, ‘by the way don’t even think I’m substituting my dad with you but even that is too clinical, too Freudian, and I didn’t want to go there,” he explains.
We joke that the presence, or lack of fathers, or daddy issues, also appears in the second story, Cadenza, where Elio meets the older Michel in Paris. André concedes, “we all have daddy issues. The whole book is about daddy issues. The last sentence of the book is a daddy issue, if you remember. ‘I’m sorry your dad isn’t here,’ and both Elio and Oliver are now dads…”
This reminded me that Miranda and Elio’s father had named their son Oliver, after Elio’s first love. It dawned on me that the names, characters and as the title of the first novel suggests, have a sense of importance. I tell Andre about a highschool crush I had that I never expressed to that person but that ever since I keep finding people with the same name. Louis confesses his own story of dating people with the same name several times over. In “Call Me By Your Name” the novel this manifests quite literally between Elio and Oliver during sex. In “Find Me,” Sami accidentally calls Miranda another name in the middle of sex.
Andre explains, “the semantics are very important. Names are important. I chose Oliver because there’s a book called Olivia that I really care about. I’ve actually just finished the preface for it. They’re reissuing it. There’s also a whole set of books by a person called Olivier. There’s a history behind the name. I wanted the name. What I didn’t factor is what a reader told me. All the letters in ‘Oliver’ are in ‘Elio.’ I didn’t come up with that. There’s also a woman named Miranda, Micol, and another one with an ‘mi’ in the name. It doesn’t matter to me. It’s some Freudian slip, maybe.”
“I like an occasional Freudian slip,” I said.
“Well, it’ll tell you something but what will it tell you? That they’re the same woman,” Andre exclaimed.
“The same woman just split apart like Frankenstein,” I added.
“Exactly. The men are also identical because their names are similar. The name Sami I borrowed from the movie because I had to give him a name. I had to be consistent with the movie, so I had to go with that,” he added.
Louis asks if there will be another movie. André hopes so. “And what about the gay literary community? Do they embrace you despite the fact that on the back cover of ‘Find Me’ it explains you’re married with children?”
“People think I’m in the closet. People think I’m out of the closet. People think I’m straight. People think I’m gay. Whatever you want to believe is fine with me.”
“What about the perspective as the first person,” I wonder. “Your books are extremely personal in that way. Do readers get confused as to what may be autobiographical in nature or are we left to speculate if all your stories are pure fiction,” I ask.
“People want to know if this really happened to me but that’s what fiction is about,” Andre emphasizes.
“The other reason I’m always writing in the first person is that I don’t know how to write in the third person. It’s that simple. I just finished a book in the third person actually. It’s the first time I’ve ever done it and I don’t feel that close to the story because somehow you know what the characters are thinking. There’s no room for error because the third person narrator can’t be wrong.”
Out of Egypt
“And if you’re the type of narrator that is misleading the reader then that’s not interesting. I feel the third person is very 19th Century, but I wrote it because someone really wanted me to write it that way. Now you enter a zone where people assume that you’re telling them the truth. And the irony of the whole thing, the true irony, is that when I wrote my memoir, ‘Out of Egypt,’ people said this has got to be fiction because I was quoting people that I’d never met because they were dead before I was born. So they figured it was fiction, but it’s not fiction.”
I wondered then, “So when you’re writing these things that are very personal and deep. Things people may not even want to say to themselves…isn’t that autobiographical in a sense?”
“I project my identity. Once you project your identity you give your characters all your insecurities. But then, as I’m writing, I become my characters.”.
“So you are able to express the things you express in your stories in real life? Is that why you feel comfortable expressing it in the book?”
“Yes, absolutely. I’m a speaker. For example, I’m the kind of person who says, there are moments in life where you could kiss someone. It’s the first kiss. The first kiss basically says: let’s not talk anymore. Let’s kiss. I like to talk. It’s very risky because. I’ve come across people in my life that don’t like to talk. They feel it kills the spontaneity. I feel, no, it’s the other way around, more talk makes things far sexier.”
“Find Me” is available now on bookstands everywhere.