Margot Mifflin
June 23, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

What's Not to Love? The Adventures of a Mildly Perverted Young Writer

Current Status
In Season
Jonathan Ames
Essays, Memoir

We gave it a B+

One thing’s for sure: No writer has brought such wholesome eloquence to descriptions of unsavory bodily functions as Jonathan Ames. In What’s Not to Love? The Adventures of a Mildly Perverted Young Writer, a collection of autobiographical essays, some of which appeared in his ”City Slicker” column for the New York Press, Ames practices ”scatological participatory journalism” reflecting uproariously on pubic lice, a near-death experience caused by excessive nose picking, and a testicular brush with a hot scalp invigorator. And those are just the accidents. The times he slept with a postop transsexual, had a colonic cleansing, and — ”scared and middle-class” — smoked crack with a gentle transvestite on Christmas were quite deliberate.

Ames, who is also a novelist (The Extra Man), intersperses his Manhattan picaresque with more conventional adventures as a suburban New Jersey kid, covering all with a mixture of unbridled libido and hopeless romanticism. The thirtysomething former model, Princeton grad, and onetime student of Joyce Carol Oates exposes his obsessions unabashedly, from his chronic masturbating (”purely a nervous habit, like cracking my knuckles”) to his ongoing battle with the bottle.

His guilt about sex — like his guilt about drinking — is a punishing subtext, exacerbated by genital warts and a nagging Oedipus complex. But whether he’s calling the unusual nipples of a teen paramour ”odd treasures” or bandaging up the toe of his beloved octogenarian aunt Pearl, his love of women (both natural and transgendered) is palpable — and undiscriminating. These pieces rarely transcend the topical, and they certainly don’t cohere as a memoir, but they do soar with Ames’ original wit and generous spirit. Apart from a gag-inducing account of lower intestinal parasites, what’s not to love? B+

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