Readers curious about the reunion—or even mention—of Elio and Oliver in Find Me, André Aciman’s sequel to his 2007 novel Call Me by Your Name (which was adapted into the 2017 hit film), should feel free to skip the book’s first 100 pages. Or, actually, skip the whole book: the reunion that finally lumbers into the final section was already described in Call Me by Your Name—and in much finer detail.
It seems odd to write a sequel to a book that already took the time to outline its characters’ later years, and indulgent to think there might be more to glean from that first book’s wonderfully melancholic, achingly erotic ending. Yet Aciman (or his publishers) knew this book would make a desirable stocking stuffer, so here we are, left with 260 pages of chance encounters, expensive meals, and cobblestone gallivanting that read like Chicken Soup for the Multiple-Pied-à-Terre-Owning Soul.
Like in his first book, the people we follow in Find Me are highly academic and inexplicably wealthy. This might make it easy to envy and embody the characters, but the writing is so uninspired it makes any form of connection untenable. Those first 100 pages concern Elio’s father, Samuel, now separated from his wife and traveling to Rome to visit his adult son, who has made a career as a gifted classical pianist. Elio’s plans shift, upending his father’s schedule and life as the latter meets, swoons over, and courts Miranda, a woman half his age he meets on the train.
Here Aciman dips into severe male-gaze territory, something that may have been more apparent in Call Me by Your Name had there been female characters to flesh out. The greatest hits of such descriptors include “and yet, despite [her] rumpled look, she had green eyes and dark eyebrows,” and “years ago…I was lost in the world of pre-Islamic Constantinople, yet the sperm cell from her pa’s gonads that would become Miranda hadn’t even been released.”
Oh boy. On top of all of this, Aciman spells out this unexpected pair’s emotions so baldly it feels like amateur poetry (“You’re oxygen to me, and I’ve been living off methane”; “Aren’t those the absolute worst scenarios: the things that might have happened but never did.”) The writing is at worst terrible and at best sappy. Eventually, Samuel and Miranda move in together at the former’s seaside home because, why not?
The pace picks up in the next chapter with Elio, who now lives in Paris and plays a lot of Bach but thinks about Oliver more. After a concert, Elio, 32, meets a man twice his age, Michel, and the two engage in a weeks-long tryst. The writing here feels more organic; there are flashes of the yearning fires that lit Call Me by Your Name, especially in the forward ways Aciman lets this pair more quickly approach and have sex. However, plot-wise, Michel is merely a stepping-stone for Elio to—spoiler—realize it is Oliver he desperately craves and needs.
Which brings us to the near-end of the book, where we find Oliver at a farewell party in New York City, leaving what is assumed to be Columbia University to live with his wife outside the buzz of Manhattan and in the quiet of New Hampshire. (The resurfacing of female characters means the return of misogyny: note his wife’s friend, “who, despite the birthmark, was not without beauty.”) The idea of shacking up in New Hampshire, having only his wife for company, and being far from New York’s queer pull sends Oliver down what can only be described as an underwritten mid-life crisis, and so he phones Elio and crosses the Atlantic once again.
No sparks fly in the final few pages where the two reunite, but how could they? Sparks need forces rubbing against each other, a mixture of heat and tension, and Find Me feels like the slapping of wet noodles who never asked to be cooked.