I Love You More Than You Know
Jonathan Ames is a very funny man. That said, the quote on the cover of this collection of essays describing him as an “edgier David Sedaris” is a mighty ballsy gauntlet to throw down. For one thing, Sedaris is a monster talent, king of the world as far as humorous essays go, and comparing yourself with the top guy in any game is bound to make you come off the loser. For another, it really depends on what can be considered “edgy” these days.
Ames is preoccupied with his body and its functions, dysfunctions, and needs, often to hilarious effect. His reflections on his chronic anal itch, irritable bowels, and inopportune pimples are full of mordant good cheer. True, this opens the door to an awful lot of poo jokes, but they’re funny, well-executed poo jokes. His sexual proclivities and perversions are somewhat more ho-hum—what’s so surprising about a fellow liking to give pony rides to trannies every now and again? Ames is essentially a nice boy from New Jersey, and while his parents might be scandalized at his antics, the rest of the world is not.
Much more successful is his dispatch from the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight, a lively story that finds Ames getting up to his usual hijinks but, more importantly, demonstrates that he can apply the same insight and talent for descriptions to worlds and events outside his own asshole. It’s telling that the weakest selection in the book is a piece where Ames interviews himself—a groaner of an overused gag and ludicrously unnecessary when he spends so much time talking about himself already.
Naturally, most of his talk about himself is of the self-loathing variety, and he gets good laughs out of that. He’s unusually frank in his discussion of insecurities about his work and career, even going so far as to address the Sedaris thing head-on in a few passages where he relates making something of an ass of himself in front of the Master. He’s mournfully aware of his status of low man on the Jonathan totem pole, being overshadowed by literary heavyweights Franzen, Lethem, and Safran Foer. Where Ames really shines is in an essay about his great-aunt Doris, a woman he clearly loves and respects. In this piece, he feels no need to remind us how screwed up he is, how pervy; he puts his look-at-me impulse on hold and opens up his heart in a very simple, honest way. In a social climate as enamored of ironic distance as ours, honesty like that is the real transgressive act.