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Friday, August 5, 2011

The Extra Man

The Extra Man, by Jonathan Ames, is classically Ames.  I am a huge fan of the author, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed this book (almost) as much as Wake Up Sir! and The Alcoholic.  (To be frank, I couldn't adore many more books than Sir!  It's truly a gift of literature.)

The Extra Man refers to the person needed at a dinner party with old ladies who no longer have a husband; an extra man is always needed to fill the seating gap.  Louis Ives is a "young gentleman" wannabe who moves to New York City after a scandal requires him to leave (read: lose) his private school teaching job.  He moves in with Henry Harrison, a peculiar old man who makes a living by serving as the extra man for his many lady friends.  There are many more moments in this story that will thrill you--this is just to give you a jumping off point.  Both characters will kill you.

Ames is a very smart writer; you are reading, reading, reading, and all of the sudden you find yourself laughing and you realized you passed the joke a paragraph ago.  He hits all the right notes and your brain needs an extra few sentences to realize that the depths of the hilarity you almost just missed.  I often wonder when I read his work if his protagonists are just simply extensions of him.  If so, where might I find him?  It's hard not to adore his hapless and flawed leading men.

Ames' writing harks back to P.G. Wodehouse (referenced often) and early twentieth century society yet it still remains contemporary.  You need a jolt, such as a reference to drag queens or a microwave in a scene, to realize that you are not reading a parlor comedy.  I pick up his books knowing I will get a good laugh, but I close his books with a huge grin on my face because I have just taken an Ames vacation to happyland.

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