Nicola, Milan

Lodovico Pignatti Morano
Semiotext(e) ($14.95)

Beginning writers are often told to “show, not tell,” but author Lodovico Pignatti Morano does neither. The narrator of Nicola, Milan posits that the title character, a kind of tour guide/hype-man/cultural pimp, has a fascinating inner life motivating his public image of magnetic self-assurance and “defeated all-knowingness,” but the reader never gets to breach this exterior. Unfortunately, sometimes the attempts to portray Nicola’s godlike superiority come off like something from an American comedy sketch about Eurotrash (“The way he wears [his necklace] makes one wonder how his expertise can be so vast and all encompassing”), and the other characters often feel extraneous—props to bolster Nicola’s self-satisfied worldview. The book is notable for its exploration of millennial malaise—in spare, evocative language, Morano summarizes the tedium of life in the era of digital globalization, “the horrifically deadening sense of never being anywhere specific” regardless of location. Similarly, the unnamed narrator’s first-person account of his obsession with Nicola probes identity issues that fit our anxious, tech-saturated social landscape. The book culminates in a pornographic-yet-flat recounting of Nicola’s sadomasochistic affair with a young sex worker who “never eats”; the narrator treats this as a big reveal, but to the reader Nicola remains ineffable and thereby oddly boring. Early on, the narrator asks, “How do you act around somebody who seems to know everything?” He could have also asked: How do you write a book about somebody who seems to know everything—and how do you read it?

2015 Really Short Review. Return to Really Short Reviews