Ellis and Michael were thrust into each other’s path when they were twelve. Quickly, they became the best of friends and the close friendship they shared, which helped them deal with the joys and pains of growing up, somehow blossomed into something more along the way.
Years later, Ellis is all alone. His wife, Annie, died in a car accident a few years ago and his childhood friend and first love, Michael, is nowhere in sight either.
Lonely and grief-stricken, Ellis recounts the events leading to his marriage with Annie and his losing touch with Michael. When given a box full of Michael’s possessions, Ellis burrows into Michael’s diary and finally finds what answers he needed to fill in the blanks in their story.
GENRES: Contemporary, LGBT
When I first read the synopsis of Tin Man, I couldn’t help but compare this book to André Aciman’s masterpiece, Call Me by Your Name. First love between two young men and some unfortunate circumstances that prevent them from ending up together? Yes, please!
Those who have the misfortune of knowing me in real life know ALL about Call Me by Your Name—whether they wanted to or not—because I made it my mission to share my unconditional love for this story. I also wrote a review stating the reasons why you should read the book and watch the movie, so feel free to check it out if you’re interested in knowing my thoughts on the subject.
Since I love this story with all my heart, it is no surprise that I feel drawn to books built on a similar premise. In a way, Tin Man also sounds like a follow-up to Call Me by Your Name. While André Aciman’s novel solely focuses on Elio and Oliver’s whirlwind romance from its blossoming to its end, Tin Man explores the darker side of first love: what comes after it ends and how is one supposed to go on when that kind of unbounded love has been taken away from them.
So, today I want to look into the similarities and the differences between Call Me by Your Name and Tin Man and let you know if fans of André Aciman’s incredible novel should go into Tin Man with such high expectations.
The truth is, notwithstanding that these two novels are based on the same premise, a passionate youthful romance meeting its end, they couldn’t contrast more strikingly with each other.
Call Me by Your Name is more of a coming-of-age story exploring the themes of first love, heartbreak, and homosexuality. We follow Elio in his discovery of love and of himself. We see him experience doubt, desire, love, and heartache with the sheer intensity only a teenager could burn with. What we feel reading this novel is a deep understanding of Elio’s feelings and a strong desire for him and Oliver to have a happy ever after.
Tin Man doesn’t evoke the same feelings at all. Half of the book is told from Ellis’ perspective when he’s a lonely and apathetic forty-something, while the other half is composed of Michael’s diary entries. Just like Ellis, Michael feels depressed, alone and sorrowful. The contrast is stark between Elio’s whirlwind of passion and Ellis and Michael’s aching loneliness and grief.
The fact that the characters in Tin Man are grown-up and disillusioned makes it impossible for us, readers, to hope for a happy ending or even a hopeful one. The most important themes explored in this novel are grief, illness, loneliness and the need to make peace with the past. You can imagine that those themes, along with the not-so-cheerful voices of Ellis and Michael, make Tin Man a considerably heavier read than Call Me by Your Name.
“This had always been the worst time, when the quiet emptiness could leave him gasping for breath. She was there, his wife, a peripheral shadow moving across a doorway, or in the reflection of a window, and he had to stop looking for her. And the whisky helped—helped him to walk past her when the fire was doused.”
I have to admit that there’s something about Tin Man that makes this story a lot more relatable than Call Me by Your Name, though. While the latter is set in a magnificent Italian villa where the characters are free to enjoy the sun and spend their time reading books and sipping on freshly pressed apricot juice, the former follows ordinary characters in their boring everyday life.
Let’s be real, most people’s first romantic encounter wasn’t this epic summer romance with a hot graduate-student in an idyllic little town in northern Italy. Yes, it makes for a better story but let’s give credit to Sarah Winman for creating such a relatable and ordinary cast of characters and, for once, not making readers long for a much more exciting life.
Sarah Winman also has a real talent with words. Just like André Aciman, her prose is compelling and slowly lures you deeper and deeper into the story. Aciman’s writing is more lush and vivid, but Winman knows how to capture emotions and images into words with absolute accuracy. That makes her prose just as poignant and mesmerizing as Aciman’s.
“He staggered up and felt so much space around him he almost choked.”
I especially love how Sarah Winman explores the theme of art in Tin Man. Rather than focusing on the creating of art, her characters highlight the importance of admiring art, even though you’re far from being an artist yourself. In Tin Man, admiring art is viewed as a way to escape your life when everything is too much, but also as a way to bring people together.
“He stood in front of the wall opposite the door where his mother’s painting used to hang. She would suddenly step in front of that painting, and whatever she was saying or doing at that precise moment came to an abrupt halt in the presence of the color yellow. It was her solace. Her inspiration and confessional.”
Winman has crafted an incredible novel. She’s not afraid to tackle heavy subjects such as grief and AIDS, and she does it properly. This is not an uplifting story in any way, but there’s something beautiful in the profound sadness portrayed here. I was also very impressed with the ending, which was the perfect way to conclude such a novel—on a slightly lighter note. Just like the epilogue in Call Me by Your Name.
Now, is Tin Man the new Call Me by Your Name? Not exactly.
Yes, Tin Man is also about how first love changes you and how it is hard to let go after it ends, but Winman’s novel explores different themes, takes a very different turn and the story is told in a way that enhances these differences.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother reading it.
I think Tin Man and Call Me by Your Name complement each other very well. Like I said earlier, Tin Man is kind of a follow-up to André Aciman’s masterpiece. While Call Me by Your Name was all about passion, desire, and discovery, Tin Man explores the darker emotions—grief, loneliness, and heartbreak—that follow the end of such a passionate, ephemeral summer romance.
In my opinion, Tin Man is not as incredibly powerful and compelling as Call Me by Your Name, but it is a moving and thought-provoking novel nonetheless. Ellis and Michael’s story is one of deep friendship, undying love, and profound grief that has the potential to stick with you long after you’ve turned the last page.