Niccolò Ammaniti is one of my favorite contemporary authors, hands down. Unfortunately, only four of his novels have been translated into English, leaving three others and a collection of short stories left for those who can read and speak Italian; and although I am of Italian descent, I unfortunately cannot speak, read or write it, which is a shame. Blame the relatives. Assimilation was the thing in their day, hence, the old world and old ways were left behind once they got off the boat - more or less, anyway.
“Me and You” is actually a novella rather than a novel proper. It clocks in at around 150 pages in a small, digest sized paperback. It was published in Italy in 2010 (and selling over 600,000 copies in Italy alone) but it’s just now making its way stateside. It’s the first English publication of Ammaniti’s work since 2009’s “As God Commands.” I eagerly awaited this and I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed. It is a wonderful story, at the same time heartfelt and heartbreaking.
Ammaniti returns to familiar themes here - that of adolescence and the misfit who doesn’t fit in. Usually, the protagonist comes from some small town either in northern or southern Italy, poor, from desperate situations. This time the 14 year old protagonist, Lorenzo Cuni, is a 14 year old from a very well-to-do family in Rome, where the story is set. Lorenzo is an outcast, struggling with ‘fitting in’ and desires to spend most of the time by himself. But his parents are concerned that he isn’t making any friends, isn’t like “normal kids” his age. He changes many schools and when he winds up at the regular high school his feelings of alienation grow worse. To satisfy his parents, he makes up a lie that a young student had invited him on a skiing trip with her family and a group of other kids from school. It’s a lie he can’t back out of and he takes the lie all the way up to the day the other children are leaving on the trip. He begs his mother to drop him off a few blocks away from where they are all meeting, not wanting to “look like a dickhead” to all the other kids. But Lorenzo has a plan. When his mother leaves, he puts that plan into motion: to spend the entire week alone in a room in the cellar of the building where he lives, holed up with video games and Stephen King novels. It is the chance for the freedom from his parents and from school that he had been waiting for. To spend a week in his own world. But when his half-sister shows up unexpectedly, wanting to stay with him in the room, all his plans go awry and he learns a lot not only about his mysterious step-sister who he hadn’t seen since he was a child, but about himself as well. It’s a coming of age tale that is both hopeful and tragic at the same time.
Written in very sparse, simple prose, Ammaniti takes you right into Lorenzo’s mind and you live his experiences right along with him. But a lot is being said in this little novel, and Ammaniti manages to say so much with such very few words, something I personally admire in writers. This story ranks right up there with the others in Ammaniti’s catalog and now I eagerly await the other three novels to be translated, that is, if they ever are. He’s a great storyteller and truly a great writer and this quick but very enjoyable read comes highly recommended.