Luxurious, emotionally charged story of a love gone wrong—in about a week’s time.
The “white” of the title could refer to the wintry landscape, or to the blazing lights of Manhattan, or perhaps to the learned, tormented crowd in which Aciman’s intellectually inclined protagonist moves, a tribe of people with names such as Muffy and Hans. “I am Clara,” one fellow dinner partier announces behind the Christmas tree, which prompts Dostoyevskian inquiries on our narrator’s part, yielding the aperçu that “strained, indifferent, weary, and amused…it slipped between us like a meaningless formality that had to be gotten over with.” Meaningless formalities turn into catty exchanges that border on the cruel, then into elective affinities and tender mercies, as our narrator finds himself swept up in a falling-in-love vortex that could go psychotic at any minute but thankfully does not. Aciman (Call Me By Your Name, 2007, etc.) is a poet of the sensitive bystander—not arch like Salinger, combative like Cheever or fraught like Updike, but occasionally stepping into their territories. When his characters say they’re confused, they’re confused—and when they say they love each other, well, the possibilities for misunderstanding are legion. Amid the “tuna-avocado miniature rolls…[and] seared scallop with a sprig of mache on a bed of slithered turnips with tamarind jelly,” out zipping along on the Henry Hudson and the Taconic State Parkway, strolling up on the Upper East Side, his characters talk and act like real people, if real educated and well-heeled people, do. That is to say, they miss each other’s signals with fateful regularity, caught up in their own tangles, but occasionally stealing kisses that taste “of bread and Viennese butter cookies” while hatching plans that never quite play out the way they’re planned. In the end, it seems, every relationship is doomed to failure thanks to a surfeit of baggage—not that we shouldn’t try all the same.
A mature (though not in the R-rated sense) view of adult love—smart, carefully written and always fluent.