If Alexander Portnoy had had a younger brother, he might have sounded a lot like Jonathan Ames. “You see, I’m something of a gentleman, even if I once labeled myself perverted, and it never seems quite proper to stare, like a stamp collector, at your lover’s vagina,” Ames writes in his new book, The Double Life Is Twice as Good, recounting an attempt to find out where the clitoris is located. Along with two other men—one in a black wig—Ames attends a class called “Sex Tips to Drive Women Wild,” where he is taught to suckle on a green balloon and a bisected peach. While awkwardly milling with his classmates on the street afterward, he wonders to himself, “What do you do after you take a sex class together? Exchange numbers? Go for a drink? No, you shake hands good-bye and quickly disperse, staggering into the night as anonymously as possible.”
It’s that sodden ending that sounds the typically Amesian note: sheepish, lustful, damp, neurotic. The book is a collection of odds and ends—journalism mostly, with some short stories and diary entries thrown in—that is unlikely to win him many new friends but will keep his fans tickled. Ames attends the US Open for the New York Observer, observing Maria Sharapova’s “powerful buttocks” and not-quite panties—“the kind of thing that a superheroine might wear,” he notes, “a cross between panties and tights.” Elsewhere, he talks about Nabokov and women’s stockings with Marilyn Manson, attends a goth festival looking like a “libidinous college professor,” and is busted by an ex-girlfriend when she finds a long blond hair in his bed. “It’s mine,” he says, quickly putting it atop his balding pate.
Unsurprisingly, for someone whose emotional palette is a vivid range of blushing fuchsias and mortified pinks, Ames’s nonfiction outshines his fiction. Pride of place in this collection is given to the short story “Bored to Death” (now an HBO series), about a young writer who sets himself up as a private detective. The cue for some larky light farce, perhaps, which sends him running back to his Chandler novels? Actually, no, the story accelerates into a barrage of gunfire and bloodshed—a bizarre slippage in Ames’s tone, as violence is decidedly not his thing. A knock-kneed beta male, he is the politest of perverts. Interviewing Lenny Kravitz, Ames is relieved not to find the multimillionaire sex god of legend: “I begin to relax. I’m with a kind person.” Entering himself in two amateur boxing matches under the name “the Herring Wonder,” he can’t stop himself from apologizing to his opponent (“Are you okay?”). For all the bodily fluids and rampaging hormones on display, The Double Life Is Twice as Good possesses a winning vulnerability, a sweet ache. Ames is the guy at the orgy who just likes the company.
Tom Shone’s novel, In the Rooms, will be published by St. Martin’s Press next year.