A few years ago, many people who’d heard of novelist and performance artist Jonathan Ames couldn’t get past the “Mangina.” The public fixated so overweeningly on the inclusion of a prosthetic puss in his 1999 stage show, Oedipussy, that in a subsequent radio appearance Ames was moved to scream, “I’m a serious novelist, not just a pitchman for the Mangina!” In his new novel, Wake Up, Sir!, Ames reminds us he’s in good company. On its surface Wake Up, Sir! appears to be a bad attempt to duplicate the Jeeves-and-Wooster narratives of P.G. Wodehouse, the 20th-century British comic novelist who was also considered too goofy for serious literature. In Ames’s treatment, Jeeves’s young master is an alcoholic Jewish-American writer whose own Wodehouse fixation leads him to narrate his own life as though it were a Wodehouse novel–quite possibly to the point where he simply imagines that he has a valet named Jeeves. For the most part Ames seems to be asking the reader to empathize more with the angst of his writerly hero than Wodehouse ever demanded for his Wooster–but you can’t expect a novelist who wails aloud for serious treatment to hew to Plummy’s purity of comic purpose. Without a passing familiarity with the Wodehouse oeuvre you may be a bit lost by this tribute, but if you pull your head out of your buddy’s cootch and check out just one of Wodehouse’s books, you’ll be up to speed. Ames reads at 8 PM on Monday, July 26, at Quimby’s, 1854 W. North, 773-342-0910.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/TRavis Roosee.