A demented picaresque about a Portnoy-ish neurotic (and his valet) who leaves the safety of Montclair, New Jersey, and heads for the untamed wilds.
As he showed in his earlier nonfiction, Ames (My Less Than Secret Life, 2002, etc.) appears to be a very strange young man: self-absorbed, sexually obsessed, utterly paranoid—traits shared here by his alter ego, Alan Blair. A young writer with one novel to his credit, Alan is 30 and working on his second book, a roman à clef about an obscure playwright who was his roommate for a few years. Having received $250,000 in a lawsuit for slipping on an icy Park Avenue sidewalk, Alan has the means to take it easy for a while. So he’s hired a valet named Jeeves to look after him in the New Jersey home of his uncle Irwin and aunt Florence—Alan’s only family since his parents died some years before—and given up any pretense of working for a living, but drinking like a fish instead. So much so, in fact, that his uncle and aunt show him some tough love by showing him the door. Alan takes it in stride and heads off to the Catskills with Jeeves. There, he stays in a forgotten Hasidic resort, goes on a bender, and gets in trouble by telephoning a “for a good time call” number he found in a gas station. He’s rescued, if that’s the word, by winning a fellowship to an arts colony in Saratoga Springs, where (probably for the first time in his life) he’s surrounded by a group of people even weirder than himself. He drinks a lot more, contracts pubic lice, is accused of theft and anti-Semitism, and falls in love. He even manages to write a little.
Pungent and hilarious, if completely off the deep end: Ames is like a perpetual undergraduate jokester, whom you either love or hate on first sight.