Nicola, Milan is the novel of the fashionable air kiss, that seemingly-intimate salutation a certain set of sociable creatures perform as a norm. Two-sided, the lips of this kiss rarely hit cheek; it’s a virtual embrace, like an ‘xo’ at the end of an email to a but nominally-known. The gesture’s loving pretense preempts the possibility of any real intimacy, as we already know each other, or should: we know of. Bombastic as the smack, we'll trade gossip on this or that party, person, purchase. Personal questions are out of the question though, as they can go both ways, and am I willing to open up? To this potentially devious, absolutely fabulous, no doubt wealthier and more connected person than I?
The air of the air kiss is, at least, where Nicola, Milan begins. On the canals of Venice, in a wooden motorboat. There, an unnamed narrator of twenty-five meets a slightly older, mysterious member of the international jet set, Nicola—the kind of man whose every gesture is measured. “I” stalks Nicola around Venice and Milan like Gustav von Aschenbach did Tadzio in Death in Venice. Sexual desire, intellectual curiosity, and artistic inspiration commingle. These allures turn maddeningly indistinguishable. Looking to decipher meaning from Nicola’s mirror-studied veneer, our “I” guide—and so we—come to face, rather, our own image.