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Alessandro Baricco. City.

Trans. Ann Goldstein. Knopf, 2002. 326 pp. $25.00.

City is set in America, but it isn't really about the city and its characters only sort of resemble Americans. Instead, it imitates the form of the modern metropolis, with stories that feel like neighborhoods and characters that pass through them like winding streets, and explores the wonders and cliches of American culture like a European flaneur lost in unfamiliar territory. The circuitous plot follows the adventures of Gould, an adolescent boy genius with a giant and a mute for imaginary friends, and Shatzy Shell, a thirtysomething woman who becomes his governess after being fired from her job as a receptionist. Despite their differences, both are really children at heart, living in the world of the imagination and reveling in the comic-book conventions of popular culture. While Gould fantasizes about a heroic boxer fighting against the odds, Shatzy is swept away by the Wild West, improvising a crude spaghetti Western into a tape recorder she's had since she was six. Interspersed throughout their tales are the more mock-serious, philosophical ones of Gould's professors, such as Mondrian Kilroy, a specialist in curved shapes and "intellectual honesty" who tries to prove that Monet painted water lilies in an effort to represent pure nothingness. Baricco's satirical and distinctly European point of view would have us take these metaphysical theories and escapist fantasies with several grains of salt, except that it's hard not to sympathize with the sincerity behind them: the childish urge to conjure up new things that all the characters, young and old, seem to share. Whether they retreat into intellect or imagination, they each find solace in the human potential to find form and meaning in an otherwise sprawling and absurd universe. Together, they give us a hilarious impression of "metropolitan" America: center of precociousness and immaturity, rich in boredom, desire, and possibility.
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Article Details
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Author:Haacke, Paul
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2002
Words:311
Previous Article:Nina Berberova. Billancourt Tales.
Next Article:Carlos Fuentes. Inez.


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