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Essays and Fiction

by Jonathan Ames

Pub Date: July 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4391-0233-6
Publisher: Scribner

A grab bag of fact and fiction from Ames (The Alcoholic, 2008, etc.), shot through with his trademark self-loathing.

The author’s journalism proves that hating yourself is a smart strategy when it comes to celebrity profiles. By proudly broadcasting his shortcomings—too insecure, too unhip, too drunk—he not only does the required job of making stars like Lenny Kravitz and Marilyn Manson look good in Spin, but he gets his subjects to voice their own insecurities in ways they likely wouldn’t with more straight-laced reporters. Still, Ames clearly prefers those outside the limelight, and he includes some crisp, funny portraits of subcultures like a goth festival and a club dedicated to corduroy. Sex is his preferred theme, and he earns plenty of comic mileage following hipsters prowling New York’s Meatpacking District, or voicing his own neuroses, sometimes in disarming detail. (One explicit yet wryly tender piece describes his experience attending a class on improving his bedroom technique.) Some of the short stories display a sketched-out, simplistic approach to tenuous sexual connections, and at its most tedious the book includes excerpts from Ames’ college diaries. Two pieces of fiction shine, however. The narrator of “A Walk Home” relates how he was shadowed by muggers while walking to his Brooklyn home, and Ames tartly captures the mess of thoughts shuttling through his mind—race relations, a busted romance, New York parking rules—before his act of self defense. The opening story, “Bored to Death,” which is being adapted as a TV show for HBO, follows an insecure author who decides to sell himself as a private eye on Craigslist. Ames deliberately riffs on classic noir—the hero carries a copy of David Goodis’s Black Friday with him—and the increasingly visceral violence not only makes for a powerful story, it exposes, in an Ames-ian way, how crime stories offer a kind of wish fulfillment for the angst-ridden writer.

Inconsistent but filled with its share of Ames classics.