THE EXTRA MAN by Jonathan Ames


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Ames follows I Pass Like Night (1989) with a gentle account of a burgeoning friendship between two likable oddballs. When 25-year-old Louis loses his teaching job at a Princeton day school after the principal's wife catches him trying on a colleague's bra, he decides on impulse to move to New York City. He answers an ad seeking a roommate and thus meets Henry Harrison, a putative writer, well on in years, who dyes his hair with mascara and spends his mealtimes being taken around town by wealthy ladies. Henry's apartment is cramped--and flooded with evocative smells--but Louis responds to his new acquaintance's eccentricity and the whiff of irony that accompanies his extreme opinions: he agrees to move in. Louis looks on in wide-eyed wonder as Henry sleeps till noon, keeps in shape by dancing to Cole Porter records, washes his clothes in the shower, and seems not to mind that the plays he's written are lost in the chaos of the apartment. Louis himself gets a pleasant enough job working at an environmental journal. He lusts after Mary, a female co-worker, but also hangs out at a transvestite club, where he occasionally pays beautiful youngsters for ""dates"" more memorable for his partners' vulnerabilities than for the awkward sex. As Henry comes to trust and like him, he teaches Louis his tricks for doing Manhattan on the ultracheap: they sneak into shows after intermission, eat their fill at art openings, and enjoy some memorable binges with Henry's hard-partying coterie of widowed ladies. Henry's unpredictability and benign theatricality make these outings hum, but Louis is also winning on his own terms--upfront about his hunger to be liked, unfazed by squalor, endlessly appreciative of Henry's spirit and kindness. The sexual-confusion subplot is murky and entirely lacking in resolution, but who cares? It's just plain fun to watch these quasi-misfits fall for each other.

Pub Date: Aug. 3rd, 1998
ISBN: 1439196494
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Scribner