The fourth novel from the Italian author of Silk (1997) and Ocean Sea (1999) is a manic comedy set in the US, about the process of storytelling, as performed by its two protagonists: a precocious 13-year-old boy improbably called Gould, who recounts a rags-to-riches story of an unlikely boxing champion to two effectively captive listeners, and Gould’s paid companion (and eventual surrogate mother), the even more improbably named—and characterized—Shatzy Shell. As her name perhaps suggests, Shatzy is a deranged Scheherazade, whose ineffably over-the-top story of a violent Old West intermittently parallels both her charge’s curious path toward maturity and her own manifold eccentricities. Is this a parody of genre-writing, or of the absurdities to which the creative urge drives would-be writers? Whatever, it’s a labored, unfunny amalgam of fragmented narrative and (a truckload of) cutesy dialogue utterly insensitive to conversational idiom (“Are these damn [malfunctioning] telephones made out of shit?”; “They say it’s horrendously cold”). Reading City is like trying to play a newly marketed game whose rules aren’t included in the package.