Saturday, June 13, 2009

Review: And in this corner, the Herring Wonder!


Where to begin with Jonathan Ames’s new book? The Double Life Is Twice as Good is a fantastic read. Ames has compiled essays and fiction (and in this collection, there really isn’t a difference between the two) in order to create a riotous event. There are no dull moments; there is just pure hysteria. 

Ames seems to represent the age we’re living in: an age of instant honesty, where people/authors aren’t afraid to admitting their quirks and problems and secrets to an audience, where fiction and memoir and journalism don’t have any indelible lines that separate one from the other. He’s blunt with his sexual ‘deviance’ – and his friends’ too.

The first story, ‘Bored to Death’, is a Paul Auster-meets-Raymond Chandler detective tale, where the narrator pretends to be a private investigator to help a young woman find her missing sister. What starts off as a laugh becomes something quite sinister. (It’ll be amusing to see what HBO cooks up for this, as the story is the basis for a new series forthcoming.) This is probably Ames at the top of his game here, mixing all kinds of genres and techniques in order to tell this tale.

The journalism in the book probably is my favourite – although that’s pretty unfair to say, because every piece of writing in this collection is pretty solid. Ames gives us insight into the relationship of Marilyn Manson and Evan Rachel Wood, the celibacy and magnetism of Lenny Kravitz, the wonderful questions asked at an oral sex workshop, and the pure absurdity of a corduroy appreciation society meeting (Ames wears corduroy trousers as part of his ‘costume’). And there’s a pretty amusing piece on his boxing experience as ‘The Herring Wonder’, which is a career I hope he revives – although that’s unlikely as his age probably won’t allow for it.

What I found to be rather intriguing was the fact that his fiction, what he labels as ‘short stories’, don’t have the same type of comedy within. They’re actually quite sad and morose – in still a bright way. It’s evident that he’s employing bits of his life when writing his fiction (some of the aspects in the journalism and personal essays sections make their way into the stories) but, in this genre of storytelling, he decides to make said bits to have more of an existential quality. Like in the comic that ends the book, the refrain is ‘I wondered if maybe this time, a neighbor would come check on me. But no one came. Doesn’t anyone care that I’m dying in here.’ It sounds like it’s right out of Dostoevsky.

Ames is one author I would carry everywhere. The Double Life Is Twice as Good made me laugh out loud, so I’m sure I got a few stares on the subway. And since Ames and I are neighbours, I hope to cross paths with him on the street one day. Plus, isn’t the jacket just perfect?

Simon & Schuster (Scribner)
224 Pages, Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1439102336


colin said…

Just received my copy and will comment properly when the time is right.

Kari said…

This sounds great. I'll add it to my "to read" list.

Vanilla Lidley said…

Ooh, I'm very interested in this. Shall definitely read, thanks for the review! 🙂

colin said…

I just finished. Hilarious. Ames's brand of honesty makes the pieces truly remarkable. I laughed heartily throughout the entire book.

As for the HBO series, I foresee it looking like Breaking Bad but without the drugs. Normal guy who takes on a second and more sinister personality.

Salvatore said…

I just wanted everyone to know that Mr Ames will be making the following appearances in NYC:

8 July: Bryant Park, 12.30pm
14 July: Museum of Sex
16 July: Book Court, Brooklyn, 7.00pm
13 September: Brooklyn Book Festival

bermudaonion said…

I saw Jonathan Ames at a storytelling event and he was absolutely hilarious. If this book is anything like he was that night, I'm sure it's great.