Synopses & Reviews
"A storyteller of refreshing inventiveness and subtlety" (San Francisco Chronicle
), Jonathan Ames has won critical raves for this delightful "comedy of impeccable manners with a debauched '90s spin" (Elle
Meet Louis Ives: well-groomed, romantic, and as captivating as an F. Scott Fitzgerald hero. Only this hero has a penchant for ladies clothes, and he's lost his teaching post at Princeton's Pretty Brook Day School after an unfortunate incident involving a colleague's brassiere.
Meet Henry Harrison: former actor, failed but brilliant playwright, and a well-seasoned escort for New York City's women of means. He dances alone to Ethel Merman records, second-acts operas, and performs his scrappy life with the dignity befitting a self-styled man of the world. What can this ageless Don Quixote of the Upper East Side have to offer a young gentleman such as Louis? What, indeed.
Well, the answer lies somewhere between the needs of an irascible mentor and the education of his eager apprentice...between cocktails on the Upper East Side and an even more intoxicating treat along the secret fringes of Times Square...and between friendship and longing.
"A sure-footed exploration of sexual confusion and a loopily elegant, surprisingly moving urban comedy of manners." The New York Times Book Review
"Ames makes it clear that his protagonist's sexual tentativeness and anxiety are really just flimsy covers for his passion and warmth. That's what makes The Extra Man work so well. Louis may feel as awkward as Milton Berle in drag, but inside he's really Fred Astaire he just doesn't know it yet." The New York Times
"Ames follows I Pass Like Night with a gentle account of a burgeoning friendship between two likable oddballs....Henrys unpredictability and benign theatricality make [their] outings hum, but Louis is also winning on his own terms up-front about his hunger to be liked, unfazed by squalor, endlessly appreciative of Henry's spirit and kindness. The sexual-confusion subplot is murky and entirely lacking in resolution, but who cares? It's just plain fun to watch these quasi-misfits fall for each other." Kirkus Reviews
"An endearing, entertaining story." The San Francisco Chronicle
"Makes verbal high jinks look almost as easy as pie in the face....An urban confection." The New Yorker
"A miracle....This novel is not to be missed." Booklist (starred review)
"Ames has the one thing Fitzgerald lacked: a sense of humor...The Extra Man wins us over with its sheer energy and good will, its confidence in the ability of its own humor and intelligence to widen our ideas about the possibilities of love, and about the permissible range of inner and outer lives to which today's young gentleman may properly aspire." Francine Prose, The New York Observer
"The Louis and Henry show is honest, funny, and original, making the meaning of 'human' deep and strange in the best way." The Village Voice
About the Author
JONATHAN AMES is the author of I Pass Like Night; The Extra Man; What’s Not to Love?; My Less Than Secret Life; Wake Up, Sir!; I Love You More Than You Know; The Alcoholic; and The Double Life Is Twice As Good. He’s the creator of the HBO® Original Series Bored to Death and has had two amateur boxing matches, fighting as “The Herring Wonder.&
Table of Contents
There's to Be No Fornication
The Young Gentleman
The Next Event
The Extra Man
Otto Bellman and His Gang of Swiss Yodelers
I Felt Connected to Women All Over America
Porky Pig Fell Off a Cliff
An International Agreement on the Virtues of Chastity
The Recession Spankologist
Hot for Cockroach, Cold for Lead
Are You Jewish?
One of the Greatest Hoaxes of All Time
We All Wanted to Be That Femme Fatale
I Met Someone Jewish
Americans Are Too Concerned with Athletics
Deep in Queens
The Jewish Duke of Windsor
Were There Animals?
This Is Only a Tape Recording
The Queen Has Fifty Rooms
Four Gap-Toothed Dairy Maidens
Cut Off Your Hair Like Salome
You'll Get an Erection and Then What Will I Do?
You've Brought So Much Toilet Paper into My Life
Fleas, Cars, and Florida
The Whole City Has Fleas
He Saw a Piece of Cheese and Made Havoc with It
My Analyst, Gershon Gruen
I Felt Something Under My Rear
Are You Having BMs?
The Essential Man
Whatever Happened to Danny Kaye?
The Men Are Still in Charge Down There
She Wanted Me
People Are Dying, New Ones Are Coming Up
Otto Bellman Collects His Mail
Deep in Bay Ridge
All the Queens Were Dead
I Was Like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
That's All I Have to Say About America
The Life of a Fugitive
I Was Like Lady Macbeth
That's Very Good Cheese He's Eating
Lagerfeld Is Back In
A Tie Is Dipped
It's Your Fellow Old People Who Tear You Down
Daphne Wants to Drink Cough Medicine and Smoke Cigarettes
Thank You, Dear Boy
Life Rushes By
You Look Practically Middle Class
A Girl as I Must Have First Imagined Girls
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide
1. Describe the tone of The Extra Man. What kind of novel is it? A comedy? A satire?
2. Louis Ives considers himself a "young gentleman" fashioned out of the works of Fitzgerald and Wilde. Since he is the narrator, how does his fantasy shape the novel?
3. At one point Louis says, "I felt less alone -- the whole city had sex problems." How does his attitude regarding his "problem" change throughout the book? Chart his development from his first visit to the "recession spankologist" to his final escapade with Maria. How does he feel about others with sex problems?
4. One of Louis' major conflicts -- apart from his obsession with balding -- regards his Jewish heritage. He says "their anti-Semitism and my Semitism were the major flaws in my young gentleman fantasy." How does he reconcile this?
5. What is the nature of Louis' sexuality? Consider his reaction to watching the young subway couple: "I wanted to be both of them. I wanted to be strong enough to hold someone, or lovely enough to be held."
6. What revelations might be read into his statement, upon seeing Maria naked, "It was a girl as I must have first imagined girls"?
7. Though far apart in age, habit, and attitude, in what ways are Henry Harrison and Louis alike? Why is his relationship with Henry so important to Louis?
8. In what ways does Louis disappoint Henry? What is it about Louis that Henry believes in? Discuss the possible meanings behind the awkward moment when Henry dangles his tie into Louis' navel.
9. When Henry compares his friendship with Louis to a play -- albeit a play in want of a guiding plot and structure -- what does he mean? How does he make the analogy work?
10. When Henry suggests to Louis that he "work on his soul" and "pray for enlightenment," what does he really want for Louis? How does he hope he'll better himself?
11. After sneaking a look at the forbidden photo album, Louis is saddened and touched by Henry's position in life. But how might Henry have changed his destiny? Does he really want to change it?
12. Both Henry and Louis are men of sometimes indefinable wants and needs. Of the two men, who is more likely to have those needs met in order to live a happier life, and why?
AN INTERVIEW WITH JONATHAN JAMES
Q: New York City plays such a huge part in both The Extra Man and I Pass Like Night; it almost functions as a character in itself. What was your objective in making Manhattan such a distinctive presence? How would the plot play in Cleveland?
A: In The Extra Man, I did want New York to be like a third character. My objective was to capture the madness and vastness and anything-can-happenness of the city, and then throw Louis Ives into the mix and see how he does. I live here and it's the place that captures my imagination. It's the place that I know -- a crazy careening island of buildings and pavement and water all around, and it's a magnet for characters. Now, everywhere there are characters, but I live in New York and I don't get to travel much, so this is where I see them and meet them. I love to look at people; it's never boring. So I don't know how the plot would play in Cleveland. If I lived there, I would find stories of that city, but The Extra Man and I Pass Like Night are very much stories of New York -- of the neighborhoods, of the social strata of Manhattan, and of the endless opportunities for unusual adventures here.
Q: New York has changed so much since the early '90s, when The Extra Man is set. What do you think about the new Times Square and New York?
A: I passed many hours in the old Times Square and I don't miss it necessarily. It was ugly and garish and I often felt embarrassed for my city that this is what tourists would see when they first arrived. At the same time, the new Times Square is ugly and garish, but in a different way. I guess all businesses are about making money, but there's something so soulless about the new Times Square. At least the old businesses made money in small, humble increments -- 25 cents for a peep show -- but now these big corporate monsters are in there and they really know how to empty wallets. And so it's like what everybody says -- America and Times Square are becoming one big mall of powerful chain stores. What I did like about the old Times Square, and you can still find this in New York, was that it was a place of decadence and risk and danger. I don't climb mountains very often or sail solo around the world, but I do like to have a little danger in my life once in a while and I could find it in Times Square. So maybe it's not there anymore, but elsewhere trouble still lurks. And people need trouble. It gives them something to think about, makes them feel alive.
Q: The tone of The Extra Man is remarkably distinct and refreshingly unusual. How do you set out to create the language or the voice in which you tell your stories?
A: The voice in The Extra Man comes from this sort of odd, mildly British accent that I speak to myself in as I type out the words. I don't always use that British (to my nutty ear) voice, but I employ it quite often. I'm employing it now. I don't know why this happens, but I think it comes from reading so many W. Somerset Maugham short stories and British translations of French and Russian and German novels. That is the only explanation that I can think of. I do alter the voice, depending on who is speaking. Right now, the author Jonathan Ames is speaking. He's trying to sound like he knows what he's talking about in this Q&A. In The Extra Man, Louis Ives is speaking and he uses the British accent a little differently, because his personality is his own, which leads me to say that my narrators in both The Extra Man and I Pass Like Night are not me. They're like odd cousins or strange brothers. We share many of the same qualities, but they are very much their own persons. So they have their own voices.
Q: Were you influenced by any specific literary works when writing The Extra Man?
A: There are many books that inspired me and that were influences in my writing of The Extra Man. First off, there was Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories. I wanted to make New York my Berlin, and initially I wanted Louis to be a camera, to be somewhat removed and passive like Isherwood's narrator, but that didn't quite work for The Extra Man. Louis had to be fleshed out more. But still like Isherwood's linked tales, I wanted my book to have interesting, eccentric, and lonely characters. The whole young gentleman dream came from the very books that Louis cites in chapters one and two, though I didn't necessarily model my novel after any one of those books, though I did hope that some of my dialogue might amuse people, the way I was amused by Oscar Wilde's dialogue. Structurally, in a very basic way, I modeled The Extra Man, in its use of a table of contents and chapters with sub-headings, after Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. Before beginning The Extra Man, a very big influence was John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. I had such a good time reading that book and laughing that I wanted to write some thing that could maybe have the same effect. Also the hero of Toole's book, Ignatius J. Reilly, inspired me to try to create an outrageous man (Henry Harrison) who rails against the world around him. Later, while writing The Extra Man, I read Anthony Burgess's Enderby books and this further encouraged me to try and finish what I thought of as my 'comic novel.' And then when I was three-quarters of the way through The Extra Man, I read in its entirety Miguel de Cervantes' The Ingenious Gentleman, Don Quixote de la Mancha. And here I found perhaps the very first role model for the comic (yet serious, too) novel, and I saw parallels between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and Henry and Louis. This further emboldened me to complete my novel, to press on as best I could.