People have been talking about a sequel to Call Me by Your Name since at least 2017, when Luca Guadagnino’s acclaimed big-screen adaptation of the 2007 novel was released. The director has expressed interest in revisiting Elio and Oliver, the young lovers at the heart of André Aciman’s book, at later points in their lives the way director Richard Linklater did with the besotted characters in his Before trilogy. Aciman himself included glimpses, set 15 and 20 years after their fleeting summer fling, of an older Elio and Oliver in the original novel, providing at least a potential foundation from which to extrapolate future films. But the author indicated repeatedly that he’d said what he had to say about the pair, played by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in the movie—that is, until last December, when he announced he was in the process of writing a follow-up.
Find Me, that long-awaited sequel, is a confounding work. It opens with an encounter on a train: An older man meets a young woman nearly half his age, and their unlikely chemistry leads to a Linklater-esque couple of days in Rome. Sami, who narrates the book’s first and longest section, and Miranda lunch with her ailing father, wander the streets, make overwrought and improbable declarations of love to each other, and spend the night together at his hotel. They’re eventually joined, more than 100 pages into the book, by Sami’s son: Elio, now a pianist in his mid-20s.
Odds are, the beginning of a heterosexual May-December romance is not what you expected from a sequel to what has become one of the most cherished gay love stories of the 21st century. And if you happened to start Find Me without having bothered to read the dust jacket description or any advance press surrounding the book, it won’t be immediately obvious who Sami is or how he’s even connected to Elio and Oliver. Aciman himself has admitted that he was hesitant to use the word “sequel” to describe Find Me. Based on interviews he’s given, it seems as though the author fell in love with his characters all over again after seeing Guadagnino’s film, but while he was newly smitten with them and their world, struggled to find a compelling reason to revisit their story. “The problem with a sequel is that you need plot,” he told Vulture shortly after the movie’s release.
If Aciman didn’t solve that particular problem, he apparently got over trying to. Find Me presents a series of insular vignettes, each told from different perspectives—Sami's, Elio's, Oliver's—and built around affairs and flirtations. Sami woos Miranda in Rome. Sometime later, Elio takes up with a significantly older man in Paris. Oliver contemplates his attraction to a pair of acquaintances, a man and a woman, at a party in New York. The result is a frustrating book that does not seem to know what it wants to do with its characters. The opening section devoted to Sami and Miranda feels particularly interminable, as we bide our time wondering when either Elio or Oliver will show up. Meanwhile, Elio’s section picks up steam with an apparent mystery about his new lover’s father, but then that fizzles.
“The film made me realize that I wanted to be back with them and watch them over the years,” Aciman declared in a statement earlier this year, “which is why I wrote Find Me.”
Timothée Chalamet as Elio and Armie Hammer as Oliver in Call Me by Your Name.
Which begs the question: If he’d never seen the movie version of Call Me by Your Name, would he have written this new installment? I asked myself a similar question when Margaret Atwood announced she was at work on The Testaments, her sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. Was the acclaim for Hulu’s Handmaid’s series a good enough reason for her to revisit Gilead?
Writers are inspired by whatever inspires them, of course. If an adaptation of their work spurs them to dive back into a world they created years ago or reinvigorates the voice of a character, there’s nothing objectively wrong with that. I’m willing to give both Atwood and Aciman the benefit of the doubt on this. The problem is that both novels seem unnecessary. Their flaws are such that they come across less like literary exercises than responses to the interest in the film and TV adaptations that preceded them. Interest in or market demand for—I guess you can take your pick.
The Testaments is more successful at least in terms of presenting a compelling narrative, replacing The Handmaid’s Tale’s vivid parable with a propulsive thriller shot through with inspirational resistance. Find Me, on the other hand, is drained of the heady sexual frustration and tension that fueled the teenage Elio’s narration in Call Me by Your Name. What’s left is meandering and episodic, and doesn’t reveal much about Elio or Oliver or their new lives beyond the fact that neither of them has been able to move past what happened between them 30 years ago. It doesn't engage with the ways their personalities and perspectives may have changed. Might Elio, with the benefit of hindsight and the example of #MeToo-era politics to draw upon, reconsider or attempt to recontextualize their relationship?
Unlike The Testaments, which indulges the reader’s presumed appetite for hope in the Trump era, Find Me mostly resists fan service, withholding the longed-for Elio-Oliver reunion—until it doesn’t. Still, both Atwood and Aciman seem to have taken the wrong lessons from their previous work’s popularity. What made The Handmaid’s Tale so chillingly compelling was how totally unremarkable its heroine Offred was; she wasn’t a crusader, so she could be any of us. The Testaments undoes that, turning the character into a symbol for the resistance like she is in the Hulu series.
Similarly, what made Elio and Oliver’s story so achingly bittersweet was the fact that nothing particularly tragic befell them. Their lives simply swept them along in different directions, the end of their affair made that much more heartbreaking because of its brevity. Elio’s memories of their time together could be unapologetically romantic because real life never intruded on their enchanted summer. Oliver, I wish that you and I and all those we’ve held dear might live forever in one house…, Elio thinks in the first book. Find Me gives Aciman’s character an approximation of precisely that, dulling some of Call Me by Your Name’s poignancy.
Different rules apply to different media. In fiction—at least in the sort of novels Atwood and Aciman write—a satisfying conclusion doesn’t always preclude the desire for more. On the flip side, sometimes ambiguity can be satisfying. Parables are short for a reason. But television and, increasingly, movies have taught us to always expect more. Another season, another sequel, a spinoff, an expanded universe. The story is never really over. That ethos has long dominated genre fiction, with its anthology series and sagas. Find Me and The Testaments make me wonder if it hasn’t begun to infiltrate literature as well.
Find Me is available now through Farrar, Straus and Giroux.