Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a sweet, unpretentious take on life and on what it means to be human. It made me wonder about the inner life of boys, something I’ve always believed was non-existent. I know it sounds a bit nasty to say that, but, growing up, I always thought boys had it easy. It lingered, I guess, as a force of habit, something I’ve never felt necessary to reassess.
While reading Aristotle and Dante, I was forced to re-examine those notions and I loved the journey. I loved the first few steps, when I was still thinking that Benjamin Alire Sáenz was putting depth and complexity where they had no place. I enjoyed carefully treading into the territory where I will be struck by sudden realization that I’ve had my narrow-sighted glasses on for too long.
Finding myself in a place where all bets were off – change of viewpoint pending – I realized I was in love. I fell in love with the simplicity and ease with which my preconceived ideas were shattered into billion pieces, shimmering under the new-found light.
I was reminded that discovering the secrets of the universe means unlearning innocence and playfulness which made me feel morose. What I admire the most about this book is the fact that there wasn’t a single sentence in it which made me think that someone older than 17 was writing it. I think amazing talent and excruciating effort are behind that, behind keeping your years and experience at bay.
I have to admit when I started reading Ari and Dante I was pissed that I had in my hands yet another book with first person narrator. Don’t get me wrong, I think 1st person narration is awesome but it takes skills to pull it off. Thank God Benjamin got skillz. The result is Aristotle, one of those characters that you inescapably fall in love with. He’s a guy who sticks around on the edges of emotion and memory and comes back every once in a while to remind you of sweet melancholy.
At one point, Ari writes:
High school was just a prologue to the real novel. Everybody got to write you, but when you graduated you got to write yourself.
That’ll keep me awake at night, because I still feel someone else is writing my novel, I still feel I need to take that pen and start writing my own story.
Read Ari and Dante. It’s profoundly beautiful. And don’t forget to remember the rain.