André Aciman on the beauty and pain of writing Call Me By Your Name sequel Find Me
Twelve years ago André Aciman published Call Me By Your Name, the queer love story that worked its way into everyone’s hearts — and ensured we’d never quite think of peaches the same way again. Two years ago the film version came to life, immortalizing Elio and Oliver on the big screen, introducing even more fans to the peach life, and winning an Oscar for best screenplay in the meantime. Now, the best-selling author is back with a sequel to the original story — that we technically shouldn’t call a sequel.
Find Me picks up in between two of the first installment’s time periods, following Elio’s father Samuel as he meets a woman on the train to Rome. If it wasn’t clear in CMBYN, the two Perlmans are cut from the same cloth in their enviable ability to romanticize everyday life and romance. Here, Aciman talks to EW about why he decided to do a sequel after all these years, what he learned from Elio, and more. And, stay tuned next week for major spoilers on the new novel, as the author explains the full-circle ending.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Find Me is a continuation of the story that was set up in Call Me By Your Name — did you have this part of the characters’ lives in mind from the beginning?
ANDRÉ ACIMAN: I didn’t have this story in particular in mind at all, but I knew that I was going to write about Elio and Oliver at some point. After the publication [of Call Me By Your Name], I was on contract for another book, and when I finished I tried to get back to Elio. It wasn’t working – I tried quite a few times and it was always the same thing, it was Call Me By Your Name Part 2. I was kind of discouraged and I let it go. I tried again a few years later and it just wasn’t sticking. Eventually, back in 2016 suddenly I was inspired. I was riding a train and a woman sat next to me and we started talking. She got up two stops later but something just hit me that this was a good story to write. I wanted to write this story, but I had no idea it was going to be Elio’s father until I was a few pages in.
How does the plot in Find Me compare to your earlier attempts at the story?
The originals were very different. I had to situate him and I didn’t want to put him in Italy because I’d already done that. I put him in an American college, and then he became a grad student and then so on. It was always the same thing: He’s thinking of Oliver, they might meet, they might not meet. I was confused because it was basically all Elio longing for someone new, a new relationship, and in the background there was always going to be Oliver. I didn’t want to create a situation in which he has a domestic life with a partner and everything is fine because where do we go from there?
Music is a big running theme in Find Me: In CMBYN, Elio’s piano playing begins to emerge, but here we find much more in-depth descriptions. What research did you do to write those portions?
I never do research, I really never do. Even in my memoir, I didn’t do any research. I just based it on frivolous, stupid gossip. I love gossip and that usually gives me all the historical pointers. It may be totally wrong — I don’t care. As far as the music is concerned, I don’t play any instruments, I can’t even read music, but I hear the music all the time when I’m not writing. In the gym, in the subway; I play music — so I know it and I take it very seriously.
We hear from multiple narrators this time — the first section is all from the point of view of Elio’s father, Samuel. What was it like to tell this story from another person’s perspective?
I’ll put it this way: I don’t know how to write in the third person, so I have to write in the first person. That’s the only way I know how to write. I don’t like the third person because it means that there’s a lot of private details that go on in your head that cannot be known by the third-person narrator. Or it becomes like a 19th-century novel where the narrator knows everything but that’s not that interesting. I think first-person allows you to go into their very private head. For example, I love the moment when Oliver says, “I used to know how to flirt with people, what happened to me? I’m more insecure than I’ve ever been.” And he’s saying it in such a way that he kind of surprised himself by this fact.
Looking back on CMBYN, which portions of the book resonated the most with readers?
Well, I had no idea that the peach scene was going to become so important. I was going to cut it out because I had a fun time writing it and I figured, okay, my editor’s going to say, “Shame on you André, we’re not going to put this in.” In fact, he said the opposite, he said, “I love this scene and it’s very well done.” And I had no idea that there were going to be fans — there’s a group of readers called the Peaches. There are 22-25,000 of them around the world and they tour to Italy every year. They’re having a big event in June of 2020 to which I was invited.
The pivotal speech from Samuel to Elio, when he tells his son to lean in to his painful emotions, was very pivotal to movie viewers…
Most people feel that the speech from the father is a kind of marker in their lives as readers. Most gay people who have read the book feel they wish their father had spoken to them that way, or there’s also the converse: It gave them such faith in what parents can be that they opened up and came out to their parents because of the book. Now did I expect any of this? Absolutely not.
How has your own relationship to, and views on, fatherhood changed and expanded during the years between writing the first novel and now?
My kids were very young when I wrote the [first] book. I wrote the book in 2005 so the eldest of my kids was about 14. And though I don’t like to speak about my personal life, what I discovered is that my father was very, very open with me and I have been very, very open with my sons. I think what we have is total frankness and honesty with one another and an amazing friendship, which of course has translated to an amazing love. We truly are very close. And, it’s wonderful — all of them write extremely well. I’ve very happy that they are very, very good with language — nowadays I send them my manuscripts for them to read and to tell me where I goofed.
Most of Call Me By Your Name takes place in a vague town that is either fictional or represents several places in Italy. But Find Me places its characters Rome and Paris, among other cities — how does place factor in to this story?
Here’s my explanation for it because as I always say to people, I’m not a very visual person. I don’t notice things, I don’t see things that everybody else sees. I don’t like to give you too many details about a town or a street or the names of shops and so on, I really am very frugal when it comes to giving realistic details. But what I try to do conversely is to give you a sense of the place. And the only way I know how to do this is by creating rhythm in my sentences, so the flow of the language itself gives you a feeling of the place that has very few descriptions. It’s the rhythm of the sentences that, for me, suggest what the time is like. In CMBYN I’ll tell you there is the smell of coffee, you see sunflowers and lavender. And that’s all I say. The music of the sentences makes you feel, there’s something Italian here.
If the film version of Find Me comes together in the future, you’ve really struck gold with Timothée Chalamet, especially given how his career has taken off in the years since the movie version of Call Me By Your Name.
Timmy was fantastic in the film. I think that everybody was perfect, they all played their roles with a great deal of sensitivity. Timmy deserves everything — in my heart of hearts I wish he had gotten the Oscar, it would have been an amazing moment. He’s become so famous and so successful and it’s deserved. He’s not only a great actor to look at but he’s a great performing actor in the old style of performing actors.
Find Me is available now.