Eight White Nights
By Andr Aciman (FSG, $26)
Mon Feb 8 2010
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
Andr Aciman’s second novel is so awash in feverish romanticism that, at the very least, you have to admire its courage. It’s a modern New York City fairy tale—rooted in time only by the casual mention of cell phones and Starbucks—wherein a city bus can be described without irony as a “Stygian vessel headed towards destinations and sights unseen.” Aciman lends his lyrical prose to the eight days and nights in the courtship of Clara, a “dyspeptic Upper West Side Jew on antidepressants,” by an unnamed, 28-year-old narrator of seemingly independent means. It is fortunate that the story takes place during the holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s, since it saves Aciman from explaining what any of his characters actually do, save for going to Eric Rohmer movies or buying “rare bottles” for friends.
When the two would-be lovers first meet at a charmed Christmas party—during which the novel is nearly swamped by cloying hyper-analysis—the narrator tells Clara that “one can’t be the dreamer and the lover at the same time.” Yet in Eight White Nights, love is a dream, a fantasy in which seemingly urgent desires are expressed in a guarded and uncertain conditional tense (“Tomorrow night I would come and relight each candle...”). While the author deftly captures the charged banter that distinguishes a burgeoning love affair, the novel is less about the two main characters than about the various tropes and emotional crescendos of romance: ardent glances, gently falling snow, etc. Early on, Clara confesses that “It’s never me men want, just someone like me.” Similarly, in Aciman’s thrilling though rather shallow dream world, it’s not real life anyone wants, just something like it.—Ian Crouch
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