As an essayist and storyteller at the former New York City club Fez, Jonathan Ames became Generation X's Woody Allen, a dirtier David Sedaris. For the past 10 years, he's spilled all the eye-popping details of his private life from his fancy for transsexuals to his bout with irritable bowel syndrome with the apologetic air of someone terribly disappointed by his own decadence.
"I am part of a vast generation of people who live perpetually as if they have just graduated from college," Ames writes in this latest collection of essays. "I am 38 years old. I wear a backpack and have no savings."
And yet, he is growing up. Ames has stopped drinking, so there is a forensic clarity to the pieces he's compiled here. On book tour in Amsterdam, he watches a woman do lewd things with a banana, but the businessmen for whom she performs actually hold Ames' attention. In another essay, Ames recalls the greatest athletic victory of his college fencing career, only to later discover it meant almost nothing to his opponent.
Slowly, Ames has discovered the world outside his own skull and he has rather gracefully adapted. A few vintage pieces remind us of his previous wildness, but these are just flashbacks to a time when the way to our hearts at least to Ames always seemed to lead through the gutter. John Freeman
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Come On In!
Ecco $27.50/ hardcover
For a man who spent a good deal of his writing life contemplating his nether regions, hardscrabble West Coast poet and dog- racing aficionado Charles Bukowski has had an appropriately virile afterlife. Twelve years after his death, the archive of poems he selected for posthumous publication continues to cough up books, the latest of which is Come On In!
Here are all the old Bukowski concerns: the flatulence and falseness of the so-called real world; the beady- eyed self-loathing that develops out of merely rubbing up against it; and the slow way Bukowski climbed out of these depths by writing.
"I thought, / Jesus Christ," he writes of reading a Truman Capote story, "if this is what they / want, / from now on / I might as well write for / the rats and the spiders / and the air and just for / myself."
This is, of course, something of a posture, but Come on In! shows again just how effective a Pied Piper it made of Bukowski. In a world of fakes and frauds, he was the voice you could trust. Like Kurt Vonnegut, he still reminds us we can all still be young at heart, true to our own best selves. John Freeman