Monday, August 27, 2007

Jonathan Ames Pens Decadent, Self-Indugent Book Review and That's Okay

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Anything Jonathan Ames does is news around here. The strapping man of letters, stage, Fionna Apple's heart, and most recently the boxing ring (pictured above) is a refreshing, singular, old-school New York cultural figure that you really don't see the likes of these days. Ames conflates artistic mediums like it's nobody's business. His whole oeuvre might well turn out to be some sort of insane mixed media autobiographical collage. Or maybe it's all an act: his drinking and drug problems, his queer obsessions. It doesn't really matter. Ames wrote a review for this weekend's NYT Book Review on Matt Ruff's book, Bad Monkeys. The review as review is negligible, but then, most book reviews (short form, weekend paper style) are a waste of time. Ames spends 2 of 6 paragraphs on his major issue with the novel, the acknowledgments being placed, distractingly, at the very end of the novel:
I can see nonfiction writers who have done a lot of research thanking numerous people, but novelists should put brief acknowledgments at the front of a book. I was savoring my last moments with “Bad Monkeys,” the reading equivalent of post-coital happiness, and then was yanked out of the book’s spell, which I would have liked to stay under for a little while longer, like a dream — or an illusion — I didn’t want to be woken from.
Firstly, Ames is right. As a reader you've just invested a big chunk of time and emotion into this work. When you're finished, you want to sit with it. If Cormac McCarthy would have rattled off thank yous at the end of his most recent novel The Road, I might not have had that 30-minute pure anguish weepfest that I did have when finishing that lovely terrible (in a really good way) book. On the other hand, Jonathan Lethem muddled the breezy, good read that was his last novel, You Don't Love Me Yet, by tossing in the thank yous in the end. I was trying to figure out what I just read, about to determine why I should care, when suddenly I'm looking at names outside the cosmology of the text, though they obviously informed the text (I should confess that I know one of the names so the placement was even more distracting). Point being, acknowledge, briefly, before your novel, okay? I can only really handle a note on the text's typeface (which is stupid but at least innocuous) once the book is through.

Secondly, notice how in the Ames quote up above he manages to throw a sexual analogy, his "post-coital happiness," into the book review, and how that analogy has nothing to do with the substance of the book, only how it made him feel. Classic, self-indulgent, solipsistic Ames. Not many writers can pull off the self-reflexive me me me narrative bent as well as he can. And he's dating Fiona Apple. And he boxes. So. Yay Ames!!

P.S. Photograph by Laurel Ptak purloined from Gawker's series of pics from Ames' boxing match against writer Craig Davisdon at Gleason's Boxing Gym in New York on July 24th of this year.

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