Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Me and You

In dangerous situations, when the heart is exhilarated, people are more susceptible to falling in love. At least that’s what I’ve heard. I think that must be Niccolo Ammaniti’s trick in getting readers to fall in love with his characters. “Me and You” tells the story of Lorenzo, a socially awkward boy who hides in a cellar to cover up a lie that he went skiing with friends for a week. In reality, he doesn’t have any friends, but his mother looked so pleased when Lorenzo announced this plan, he couldn’t own up to his lie.

The character Lorenzo is so genuine. Reading about him is a privilege because you get a chance to know him at an interesting stage of life, before he grows up. Although he’s hiding from the world, his character is completely revealed to readers. He has a wonderful imagination. He envisions himself carrying out secret missions and saving the world when really he’s just trying not to be discovered in his secret hideout.

We never find out if Lorenzo had to fess up to his lie. I assume that he didn’t, that his secret stayed safe between him and another central character. The book is sandwiched between two snippets of Lorenzo as an adult, but we don’t learn much about him as an adult, which is the way it should be. I’m thinking of Don Delillo’s book “Underworld” and how the portrayal of Nick as an adult ruined the novel for me. If the reader is only given a glimpse of a character, it’s like recalling a happy memory, maybe of a time you were in love before the relationship went to hell or a magical time during childhood when you lived in the moment, instead of always thinking about what needed to be done or regretting a bushel of mistakes, as adults often do.

Niccolo Ammaniti has been called a modern day Charles Dickens for his compassionate portrayals of children. This is the second book by him that has blown me away, the first being “I’m Not Scared.” He really is a perfect story teller. I read “Me and You” on a park bench and as I ambled back home, I let a parade of blissful memories cross my mind, just small details of life. I remembered when I was 19, sitting by a lake next to a man who softly massaged my hands, while I talked incessantly about who knows what, trying to act oblivious to him wanting to kiss me. I remembered, as a kid, considering a friend’s comment that the smell of pavement after rain was identical to the smell of eggs in a frying pan. And I remembered the two times in my life that a boyfriend cooked me breakfast. If I were to drag these stories on they would turn bitter and I’m pretty sure readers would lose interest.

The magic of Niccolo Ammaniti’s writing is that he knows when to stop, how to supply his readers with just enough information to leave them satisfied. 

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