|The Art of Decò|
|Written by Christian Cipriani -- BT Contributor|
A new novel turns Miami on its head -- and no, it’s not by Tom Wolfe
Love Miami. Hate Miami. Love to hate Miami. I wrestle with myself over this city on an almost daily basis. It keeps me in shape. But the fact is that I’m endlessly captivated by our town, its history, and its bizarre inhabitants. So is the author J.J. Colagrande.
Colagrande moved here from New York when he was 18, but he’s become a Miamian in the truest sense of the word -- a man whose heart and soul seem staked here. As he puts it: “I love Miami very much and I’m committed to bringing a deeper, richer, more intellectual evolution to our city. I don’t like our city’s image, still leftover from the ’80s -- a place of vice and shallow debauchery. I’d like to stay here the rest of my life and contribute with my voice.”
He’s a writing professor at both Miami-Dade College (Wolfson campus) and Barry University; he’s written countless articles for the Huffington Post and New Times, among others; and in his independently published sophomore novel, Decò, Colagrande stirs together everything to love and loathe about South Florida in an abuela’s cauldron, then kicks it over on its ear.
No sacred cow goes unslaughtered in this swirling, fast-paced satire on modern Miami. Decò follows its eponymous main character, an overeducated yet shallow and self-absorbed wannabe writer who talks a lot about hard work without ever doing any. He’s credit card rich. He dates a supermodel named Chichi (“shee-shee”), whose exotic heritage includes Australian Shepherd (yeah, the dog). He lives a two-dimensional life without substance, where appearances are everything.
Decò’s perfectly fake world crumbles when the adjustable-rate mortgage on his unit at The Stupendously Luxurious jumps from 3.2 percent to 17.9. He goes broke and loses his electro-hybrid-turbo convertible. His part-dog supermodel girlfriend exits the picture. The velvet ropes close on him, and he’s relegated to a humiliating new existence in Wynwood, where extremely judgmental hipsters twirl their mustaches, pretend to be open-minded, worship their own creativity, and form ultra-secret societies that schmooze for corporate grants.
Anything to avoid real work.
When he falls to the pavement during a Critical Mass bike ride, Decò blacks out “about three minutes into the fifty-two minutes of being absolutely plummeted by every conscientious bike rider in the city.”
He finally comes to on the other side of the tracks, in Allapattah, where Decò begins stumbling naively through a rollicking kaleidoscope of Miami neighborhoods, cultures, and characters on an unlikely journey of self-discovery.
Colagrande says he was inspired after teaching Voltaire’s classic 18th-century satire Candide several times to his students. Like Candide, Decò is 30 spritely, episodic chapters, 30,000 words, and takes aim at the modern Zeitgeist with scathing enthusiasm. The more you know about and appreciate Miami, the funnier and more rewarding it is to read. A revolving cast of archetypes instantly recognizable to any Miamian come in and out of the story. No character is especially deep.
And that’s sort of the point. Decò isn’t concerned with the interior life of its inhabitants. It’s a book about their society written in prose that relishes the ridiculous and bounces along with plenty of wordplay and inexplicable events that invite you to keep reading: Decò thinks he impregnates the Queen of Allapattah by leaning on her shoulder, so he goes to work earning money for their baby by helping her cousin Lazaro move Coke -- Coca-Cola, as he believes.
He ends up at Ultra Festival but doesn’t know who Molly is and why everyone wants to party with her. He finds an old friend demoralized; she’s reduced to prying money from slick Brickell bankers in unspeakable ways. Once in a while she woofs. For much of the book, lessons are utterly lost on our confused hero.
At Decò’s heart is an earnest exploration of the tension between American exceptionalism and American entitlement. As Colagrande sees it, what most Miamians (and Americans) no longer wish to believe is that to truly succeed, you have to be both exceptional and relentless. We think that if we just get our foot in the door, it will naturally open to a room full of rewards and riches.
“Americans today feel we deserve a good-paying job, an inside advantage, and we want to take the easy way out,” he says. “Our pop culture, sports, and fashion are superior; our defense spending is massive. This gives us a superiority complex. The characters in the book evolve from a celebrity-obsessed, drug-dealing lifestyle into a more traditional view of working hard for success.”
And that’s what eventually happens to our dear Decò, but the real reward is the journey.
If you’re ready to take it, or if you just want a great holiday gift for the Miami-lover in your life, grab a copy for $12.95 at DecoTheNovel.com. There you can also read the first seven chapters online. Paperback and Kindle versions are available at Amazon.com.
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
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