Ames, Jonathan 1964-

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AMES, Jonathan 1964-

PERSONAL: Born March 23, 1964, in New York, NY. Education: Princeton University, B.A., 1987; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1995.

ADDRESSES: Home—181 Wyckoff St., Brooklyn, NY 11217. Agent—Rosalie Siegel, 1 Abey Dr., Pennington, NJ 08534. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Writer and performance artist. Worked briefly as a boxer.

AWARDS, HONORS: Guggenheim fellowship, 1999.


I Pass like Night (novel), William Morrow (New York, NY), 1989.

The Extra Man (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 1998.

Oedipussy, (one-man show), produced in New York, NY, 1999.

What's Not to Love?: The Adventures of a MildlyPerverted Young Writer, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2000.

My Less than Secret Life: A Diary, Fiction, Essays, Thunder's Mouth Press (Emeryville, CA), 2002.

Writer of column "City Slicker," for New York Press, 1997-2000.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Wake up, Sir!, a novel, to be published by Scribner, 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Jonathan Ames is both a writer and a performance artist. His first book, a novel titled I Pass like Night, is narrated by Alexander Vine, a young man raised in suburban New Jersey who escapes his middle-class Jewish life to pursue his perverse sexual inclinations on Manhattan's Lower East Side. When he is intoxicated, Alexander prefers men, but nearly all of his sober adventures are with prostitutes which he pays for by working as a doorman at the Four Seasons hotel. He worries about contracting AIDS and recalls his relationship with Ethan, a childhood friend with whom he fantasized about being a bum, and who eventually abandoned him. Alexander's mixed feelings about his father and fear that his mother may reject him if she learns of his bisexual lifestyle would seem to be the basis for his inability to have a true emotional experience.

Mansel Stimpson noted in the Times Literary Supplement that Ames "is something of a gambler," and made the observation that the novel is threatened by a tone that comes close to pulp fiction, as well as by its sentimentality and pornographic content. Stimpson concluded, however, that "There is an unforced sadness at the heart of this novel, and there lies the proof that the gamble has succeeded."

A Kirkus Reviews contributor called I Pass like Night "an impressive debut" and concluded by saying that Ames sets down "haunting urban scenes in a spare style that works like poetry."

Ames's second novel, The Extra Man, was described by New York Times Book Review contributor Stephanie Zackarek as "both a sure-footed exploration of sexual confusion and a loopily elegant, surprisingly moving urban comedy of manners."

Louis Ives teaches at a private school in New Jersey, but when there is an incident involving a coworkers's bra, he goes off to Manhattan to hide his shame and pattern his life after the man-about-town characters created by such writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Somerset Maugham, and Oscar Wilde. There he meets elderly, eccentric, asexual playwright Henry Harrison, an "extra man"—so named because he secures most of his meals and entertainment as an escort of older, wealthy women and often fills in balance the man-woman equation at dinner parties. Louis and Henry become roommates, and although Louis is very attracted to women, he is also fascinated by Henry, with whom he lives in comfortable squalor. Louis discovers that his own preferences include transvestites and cross-dressing; polite and courteous through all, he struggles to discover his true nature.

Zackarek felt that Louis's anxieties are "just flimsy covers for his passion and warmth." Robert Potts reviewed the novel in the Times Literary Supplement, saying that "if there is a plot—Ives's desire for Henry's approval, and his furtive shame over his Jewishness and his polymorphous perversities—it is a slim one; if there is closure, it is warm but hesitant. As a novel about acceptance and accommodation, however—about loving oddness for its normal and human self—The Extra Man is a pleasure and a success."

A Publishers Weekly contributor observed that "unlike Ames's moody debut about sleazy New York … this narrative maintains its sense of humor even in the most straightened, kinky, or depressing circumstances." Booklist's Brian Kenney called the character of Henry "a complete delight," adding that Ames's observations of the world of cross-dressing "is comic without condescension" and his depiction of Louis's sexuality "is surprisingly wise. How Ames ties all this together into a coherent and credible narrative is nothing short of a miracle."

What's Not to Love?: The Adventures of a Mildly Perverted Young Writer is a collection of Ames's columns for the New York Press. The subject matter includes sex, venereal disease, pubic lice, drugs, bodily functions, and Ames's experiences with each, beginning in puberty. Entertainment Weekly's Margot Mifflin wrote that "his guilt about sex—like his guilt about drinking—is a punishing subtext, exacerbated by genital warts and a nagging Oedipus complex." Library Journal writer Kathy Ingels Helmond said that "there is some good stuff here for the reader who doesn't mind taking an outrageous path to get to it."

A Publishers Weekly contributor said the columns "reveal a sweet, wide-open soul, despite their outre subject matter." Comparing them to the writings of Henry Miller, the critic found similar "Ames's embrace of the human condition in all its variants, but Ames is his own man, his own writer." In her New York Times Book Review assessment, Elise Harris maintained that the writing brings "a light beauty to the ephemeral, a beauty Ames conjures up in countless joyous scatological and ejaculatory moments."

Doug Brod reviewed My Less than Secret Life: A Diary, Fiction, Essays on Entertainment Weekly online, saying that in this collection Ames "doesn't so much contemplate his navel as fiddle with the muck within." The volume contains several dozen essays and five short stories, as well as book reviews and contributions to online 'zines. Ames reveals his fetishes, and writes of attempting to enlarge his penis through hypnosis and his observation of the making of a porn film. He recounts his meeting with Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, and their discussion of the mangina, a prosthetic device worn by his friend, performance artist Harry Chandler. Ames also writes of his brief stint in the ring as "The Herring Wonder."

A Kirkus Reviews writer called Ames "Alexander Portnoy come to life. … His giddy depression and manic misery are always first-person, up-front, and in-your-face." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Ames "the dirtiest, smartest kid on the playground—you might cringe, but you can't help being transfixed."

Ames told CA: "My primary motivation for writing is to entertain and to amuse the reader. I am influenced by the following writers: P. G. Wodehouse, Charles Bukowski, and to a lesser extent, Dashiell Hammett and Anthony Powell. Actually, I'm influenced by so many writers, but it hardly shows, because they are simply too amazing. But they do influence me to try to entertain and give the reader a good time, especially since the authors I have loved have been so generous to me—filling my life with books to read.

"My writing process is a combination of procrastination, coffee, sometimes tea, and perseverance, despite the procrastination, which is where the coffee comes in. My subjects are things that amuse me and cause me pain, and my own humiliation is a good standby."



Booklist, June 1, 1998, Brian Kenney, review of The Extra Man, p. 1719.

Entertainment Weekly, June 23, 2000, Margot Mifflin, review of What's Not to Love?: The Adventures of a Mildly Perverted Young Writer, p. 93.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1989, review of I Pass like Night, p. 851; March 15, 2000, review of What's Not to Love, p. 349; May 1, 2002, review of My Less than Secret Life: A Diary, Fiction, Essays, p. 627.

Lambda Book Report, October, 1998, Charles Michael Smith, review of The Extra Man, p. 32.

Library Journal, May 15, 1998, Joanna M. Burkhardt, review of The Extra Man, p. 112; April 15, 2000, Kathy Ingels Helmond, review of What's Not to Love? p. 88.

New York Times Book Review, October 4, 1998, Stephanie Zackarek, review of The Extra Man, p. 23; May 28, 2000, Elise Harris, review of What's Not to Love?, p. 18.

Publishers Weekly, June 9, 1989, Sybil Steinberg, review of I Pass like Night, p. 54; June 22, 1998, review of The Extra Man, p. 83; March 20, 2000, review of What's Not to Love?, p. 78; May 20, 2002, review of My Less than Secret Life, p. 56.

Times Literary Supplement, November 3, 1989, Mansel Stimpson, review of I Pass like Night, p. 1217; July 23, 1999, Robert Potts, review of The Extra Man, p. 23.


Entertainment Weekly, (August 27, 2002), Doug Brod, review of My Less than Secret Life.

Jonathan Ames Homes Page, (January 20, 2003).

Portland Mercury, (June 27, 2002), Katia Dunn, review of My Less than Secret Life and interview with Ames.