In this intelligent, quixotic tale of lust, adolescent desire and sex, seventeen-year-old Elio lives on the Italian Riviera with his wealthy and academically minded parents. His days are filled with swimming, reading, seaside walks, and playing tennis. Elio is also bright and artistic, well and truly grounded in music, literature and art.
Every summer for the past fifteen years, his parents have
played host to a college student. It's a way for them to help young academics revise their budding manuscripts before publication, and they usually become part of the family
with complete run of the house.
This summer in particular is marked by the arrival of the twenty-five-year-old Olivier, a suavely attractive American who oozes self-confidence and seems to walk through life with
a type of unfettered cowboy bravado. Almost at once, Elio's parents are taken by Olivier's proud self-assurance and his one-word send-off, always brisk, bold and blunted: "Later."
For his part, Elio is not quite sure when the attraction starts. Maybe it begins soon after Olivier's arrival during one of those "grinding lunches" when he sits next to Elio, or perhaps it starts on the beach, or even at the tennis court.
Within two weeks, Elio finds himself sexually obsessing over Olivier, his teenage hormones and imagination running rampant as he fantasizes about every night for Olivier just to leave his room, "not via the front door, but through the French windows on the balcony," and "to work his way into my body, gently and softly."
Spinning through Elio's lustful world, he and Oliver dance an elaborate ballet of courtship. At first, Olivier is standoffish and diffident to Elio's attentions, while Elio sees the older man as powerfully sexual, but also thoroughly alert and cold, a fully clever judge of character and situations; "nothing he does or says is unpremeditated," he
"sees through everybody."
When the obsession is finally consummated, Aciman writes these scenes in raw, shocking detail, the coupling filled with a kind of brutally wicked sensuality. Soon enough, Elio's
emotions start to run the gamut from fear to hunger to ecstasy, then on to remorse, that "twisted into sudden pangs of guilt… shame trailed instant intimacy."
"I look back on those days and regret none of it, not the risks, not the shame, not the total lack of foresight…" says this deeply reflective young man as the action steadily unfolds, fuelled by Elio's own angst-ridden inner dialogue. He becomes convinced that no one in the world wants Olivier as physically as he does, even in the afternoon hours, "splendid and lush with abundant sun and silence…"
In this deeply evocative and beautifully written story, the author writes of the sexual side of human nature, where lust oozes from every corner, giving no quarter.
Even Elio is shocked at his attraction to another man and about this "twisted skein of desire," that seems to encapsulate his every waking moment.
Call Me by Your Name is really an astounding piece of writing, substantial and exquisite as Aciman charts Elio and Olivier's affair
as it becomes a veil of love, culminating in a romantic kiss in Rome. It is here, after a wondrous dinner and a poetry reading, that Olivier presses Elio hard against the wall on via Santa Maria dell' Anima and where their love for each other is forever preserved, eternally cemented by the extraordinary hand of fate.