An alternative title for the book could also be "The Midlife Crisis Men and their Manic Pixie Dream Trophies"... Picture: Marvin Charles/Cape Argus
An alternative title for the book could also be "The Midlife Crisis Men and their Manic Pixie Dream Trophies"... Picture: Marvin Charles/Cape Argus

André Aciman's 'Find Me' is not the 'Call Me By Your Name' sequel you expect

By Theolin Tembo Time of article published Jan 13, 2020

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In Find Me, Elio’s father, Samuel, on a trip from Florence to Rome to visit Elio, who has become a gifted classical pianist. A chance encounter on the train with a beautiful young woman upends Sami’s plans and changes his life forever.

Elio soon moves to Paris, where he, too, has a consequential affair, while Oliver, now a New England college professor with a family, suddenly finds himself contemplating a return trip across the Atlantic.

Review:

André Aciman's Find Me is not the sequel to Call Me By Your Name that one would expect.

While the book does function as a sequel to his critically-acclaimed best-selling book, it also isn't. It also works on its own terms. An alternative title for the book could also be The Midlife Crisis Men and their Manic Pixie Dream Trophies because that is what the book often feels like it is about.

For those who may not know the term, The Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) is a well-known pop-culture cliché. The term was coined by film critic Nathan Rabin in his review of 2005's Elizabethtown to describe the cheerful, bubbly flight attendant played by Kirsten Dunst. Since then, this character type has been analysed everywhere, in pop-culture.

Rabin claimed that the MPDG "exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries".

"It's an archetype, that taps into a particular male fantasy: of being saved from depression and ennui by a fantasy woman who sweeps in like a glittery breeze to save you from yourself, then disappears once her work is done," Rabin said in another piece.

The term has also come to include The Manic Pixie Dream Boys "who exist to builds up the heroine’s self-confidence, providing comfort, inspiration, and nurturing vibes without demanding anything in return". 

"He patiently tamps down her stubbornness and temper while appreciating her quirks, helping her to become her best possible self," explained writer Molly Lambert. 

The trope has become a staple of the cultural zeitgeist.

There are variations of these character archetypes, but they exist solely as an elusive or alluring figure whose role meant to trigger transformative change for the protagonist in a story - without having their own real agency.

The characters in the Aciman's Find Me also fall into this trap.

An alternative title for the book could also be "The Midlife Crisis Men and their Manic Pixie Dream Trophies". Picture: Marvin Charles/Cape Argus

First Samuel (Sami) and Miranda, followed by Elio and Michel.

Without really trying to spoil the story, the relationship between the first two couples almost feel like copy's of each other but with minor changes in the outcome of the relationship. Sami meets Miranda by accident on a train ride and becomes enraptured with her. The go on to spend a whole train ride and then through conversation become the centre of each other's world. 

I won't spoil anything but in having the story told from Sami's perspective, he comes off as a man in his late 50s/60s going through an inner crisis but whose lacklustre life is magically solved by the arrival of the thirtysomething Miranda.

Michel and Elio relationship feels like it plays out the same way, but the only difference is that Elio narrates their romance.

Oliver, on the other hand, reads as a middle-aged man in marriage he is okay with, but still eager entertain polyamorous fantasies. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with polyamory but rather in how Aciman drops us into this idea without much explanation or  groundwork. 

The book also isn't aided by the author's decision to write around "big" or "expected" moments which feels intentional.

Given the fact that the book details a series of moments between the characters, further diving into how they would fit the MPDG trope, would be revealing too much of the story and would entail picking apart plot points that I wouldn't want to spoil here. 

Aciman tries to subvert the expectations of those moments, which could be argued would come off as melodramatic conversations, but given the nature of the story, it would have been a welcome insight into character logic and motivation.

This does not mean that Aciman doesn't give you some great moments in the book but he doesn't lean into them and writes the "in-between" moments.

What this does is that it just makes the novel as feels like three short stories of these characters - like novellas. However, thanks to the thematic ideas that runs through each story, it warrants them being published as one piece of fiction.

One distracting ploy used in the story was the the frequent mentions of incest during or leading into sex scenes.

It happened way too often for it to be incidental.

Also, not to be provocative or salacious but when it comes to tackling the sex scenes in 'Find Me', it is evident that Aciman really writes them like a heterosexual man.

One moment that comes to mind when after barely describing Elio and Michel having multiple rounds of sex, is how eagerly Elio then is to ride a bicycle. Undeniably, this may seem like a trivial point to bring up, but if you've ever had a conversation with someone who has had anal sex, you'd be aware that this is not something most would be eager to do.

At least, as a result it allowed me to have a good laugh.

Despite raising these observations of the novel, I did enjoy the book. While it could have been handled better, with maybe more time or with a more critical eye, the story could have avoided some of these pitfalls.

Find Me is a story of desire, romances, love found, love lost, and the rediscovery of life. 

It is a story about how love accepts what we give and that we have to accept what love takes, but in the end, the exchange never leaves us worse off...

As for whether I would recommend the book? If you're an English major or a writer or bibliophile then the novel is worth reading. However, if you're into casual reading or reading whenever the mood strikes and would rather prefer a movie, then just read the SparkNotes.

When it comes to the story's movie potential, I can easily see this being a three-part miniseries for HBO or Hulu.

Ultimately, I look forward to whichever version or adaption of Find Me will hit the screen... Or Call Me By Your Name 2 or "Find Me and Call Me By Your Name or Call Me By Your Name To Find Me or whatever they call it.

It will be a great flick regardless. Just keep director Luca Guadagnino.

US actors Timothee Chalamet, centrer, and Armie Hammer, left, pose with Italian director Luca Guadagnino, during the photocall for Call Me by Your Name in Rome. Picture: Ettore Ferrari/ANSA via AP.
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