Jonathan Ames | I Love You More Than You Know

Outside of woes about his body, Ames concentrates a lot on sexual matters, some involving his fascination—and rumored past dalliances—with transvestites. He touts himself as a mildly perverted young man, and most of the pieces in the book are humorous, yet infused with a disarming sweetness often tinged with sadness.

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(Grove Press, Black Cat; 266 Pgs; $13)

Oh, gross. Jonathan Ames picks his nose and his butt, and sometimes he picks one right after the other. Actually he used to pick his butt until one of his readers told him how to cure his 15-year-long itchy-butt problem. He also gets warts on his penis, pustulating lumps on his back, and irritable bowels—it just goes on and on. Perhaps you didn’t really want to know this, but you might be surprised at how entertaining and charming his confessions about such things can be. Ames’ stories, and others about non–gross-out things, are conveniently collected in the new book, I Love You More Than You Know.

Outside of woes about his body, Ames concentrates a lot on sexual matters, some involving his fascination—and rumored past dalliances—with transvestites. He touts himself as a mildly perverted young man, and most of the pieces in the book are humorous, yet infused with a disarming sweetness often tinged with sadness. One learns that Ames seeks out affection in a variety of ways, such as by stopping dogs on the street for sessions of hugging and kissing, and by telephoning his 90-year-old great-aunt every day. Ames also visits her regularly, not out of obligation, but because of his tender love for her and the fear of her inescapable death. When he writes about various encounters with prostitutes, there’s compassion and humility, but also melancholy affixed to the sordid situation in which he’s somehow once again found himself.

Still, Ames is able to convey a complexity of emotion that has its greatest expression, perhaps, in fiction. This is why, even as he is well-known in New York City as a columnist—having published many of these stories originally in the New York Press as a regular diary—as a storyteller, and as an oddball performance artist, his day job is as that of a novelist. His last novel, Wake Up, Sir!, is an impressive display of solid talent and a complete rebuff to many of today’s hot young writers and their postmodern styles. The protagonist in Wake Up, Sir! has a temperament not unlike that of the Jonathan Ames seen in these essays, sustained through a clever plot spoofing P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie and Jeeves stories.

The essays in I Love You More Than You Know, as thoughtful and well crafted as they are, show the raw insides of a writer working through his anxieties to produce serious—albeit comical—novels. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with a sniggeringly fun little piece about phallic-looking buildings, but it is a good thing the man has time for writing novels while unearthing the contents of his id for the sake of entertainment.

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