Wake up, Sir!


"Alan Blair is a young, loony writer with numerous problems of the mental, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and physical variety. He's very good at problems. He's also quite skilled at getting into trouble. But luckily for Alan, he has a personal valet, a wondrously helpful fellow named Jeeves, who does his best to sort things out for his young master." Our tale begins in Montclair, New Jersey, where Alan gets into a scrape with his uncle Irwin, a gun-toting member of the NRA. So Alan and Jeeves flee New Jersey and take refuge at a Hasidic enclave ...
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Wake Up, Sir!: A Novel

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"Alan Blair is a young, loony writer with numerous problems of the mental, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and physical variety. He's very good at problems. He's also quite skilled at getting into trouble. But luckily for Alan, he has a personal valet, a wondrously helpful fellow named Jeeves, who does his best to sort things out for his young master." Our tale begins in Montclair, New Jersey, where Alan gets into a scrape with his uncle Irwin, a gun-toting member of the NRA. So Alan and Jeeves flee New Jersey and take refuge at a Hasidic enclave in Sharon Springs, New York. Unfortunately, more trouble ensues - involving a woman! - so Alan and Jeeves again take flight, this time landing at a famous artist colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. There Alan encounters a gorgeous femme fatale who is in possession of the most spectacular nose in the history of noses. Such a nose can only lead to a wild disaster for someone like Alan, and Jeeves tries to help him, but...
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Editorial Reviews

Henry Alford
In the same way that ''The Sopranos'' and the ''Analyze This'' movies mine the humor found at the intersection of the talking cure and tough-guy omerta, Ames's book pits the self-lacerating gush of alcoholism-in-transition against the cool detachment of the English hospitality industry; Wake Up, Sir! is a Wodehouse novel for the recovery era.
The New York Times
Dennis Drabelle
… Ames can produce a pretty good facsimile of Wodehousean badinage, some of it sharpened to a 21st-century edge. You'll find plenty more such quipping in the book, along with graphic sex, ludicrous mishaps and even a few literary judgments (Alan is a big fan of Anthony Powell's novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time, which both he and Jeeves are reading).
The Washington Post
The New Yorker
Alan Blair is a ne’er-do-well New Jerseyite who has failed to follow his first novel, “I Pity I,” published seven years ago, with a second. At thirty, he’s alcoholic, afraid of confronting the bellicose uncle with whom he lives, and would be penniless but for an accident settlement. His most treasured possessions are a collection of dubious sports coats and a valet, who just happens to be named Jeeves. As you’d expect, Jeeves is circumspect, judicious, and ready at hand; what he may not be is real. Ames’s inventive romp follows its hero into very un-Wodehousian territory—an artists’ colony in upstate New York (based, in withering detail, on Yaddo), where the action revolves around art, sex, and larceny. But Jeeves remains faithful throughout; no amount of bad behavior can wring from him a sterner rejoinder than “Very strange, sir.”
Publishers Weekly
Ames's (My Less Than Secret Life) latest over-the-top offering concerns a week in the life of Alan Blair, a 30-something novelist and booze hound coasting along thanks to a fall on the ice that netted him a hefty lawsuit payout. Said quarter-million means that Alan can avoid employment and hire a valet named Jeeves, who inhabits the spare bedroom in the modest Montclair, N.J., home of Alan's uncle and aunt ("the old flesh and blood"). After Alan refuses to go back to rehab, Aunt Florence and Uncle Irwin have no choice but to oust him, so Alan and Jeeves hit the road, heading for an artists' colony in Saratoga Springs where "careworn" Alan might finish his second novel, a roman clef based on an elderly playwright he'd roomed with in Manhattan years ago. Varied ruminations on human sexuality (mostly Alan's obsession with homosexuality) and the nature of men's room wall graffiti follow. One night, looking for a good time, a very drunk Alan calls a number scribbled in a gas station phone book and gets mightily punished for it, but he arrives at the Rose Colony in one piece. Surrounded by the nutty residents at the picturesque retreat (" `It's glorious, Jeeves,' I said. `Like Brideshead' ") Alan tries to write, but excessive drinking and passionate lovemaking to sculptor Ava steals his time away. An accusation of theft and a bout with pubic lice complicate matters, but good-natured Jeeves escapes unscathed with his reliable retort: "Very good, sir." Ames's tale zips along, brimming with comedy and wild details, proving him to be a winning storyteller and a consummate, albeit exceedingly eccentric, entertainer. Agent, Rosalie Siegel. (July) Forecast: There's a whole host of folks out there wishing P.G. Wodehouse had written a few more Jeeves novels; no doubt they'll snap up this zany homage. With a nine-city tour and an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman (Ames is a regular guest) scheduled for the month of publication, this book should be Ames's biggest yet. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this bow to P.G. Wodehouse, Ames (The Extra Man) creates Alan Blair, a dapper, 30-year-old Jewish alcoholic novelist who's acquired "independent means" in a recent insurance settlement. As befits a man of his station, he hires a personal valet named Jeeves. Not so befitting is his current living situation: he rooms with his aunt and uncle in Montclair, NJ, but they boot him out when he won't return to rehab. No matter; Alan has been accepted to an artists' colony in Saratoga Springs, NY (a lunatic asylum in disguise?). Despite his good intentions, Alan can't stay out of trouble, but Jeeves-always respectfully correct-is there to serve up advice. As no one else in the story acknowledges the valet, the reader wonders whether he exists outside Alan's mind. Ames's fourth novel strings readers along in a madcap adventure complete with a lively and varied set of characters. There is something for everyone here. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/04.]-Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Educ. Lib., Ashaway Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A demented picaresque about a Portnoy-ish neurotic (and his valet) who leaves the safety of Montclair, New Jersey, and heads for the untamed wilds. As he showed in his earlier nonfiction, Ames (My Less Than Secret Life, 2002, etc.) appears to be a very strange young man: self-absorbed, sexually obsessed, utterly paranoid-traits shared here by his alter ego, Alan Blair. A young writer with one novel to his credit, Alan is 30 and working on his second book, a roman a clef about an obscure playwright who was his roommate for a few years. Having received $250,000 in a lawsuit for slipping on an icy Park Avenue sidewalk, Alan has the means to take it easy for a while. So he's hired a valet named Jeeves to look after him in the New Jersey home of his uncle Irwin and aunt Florence-Alan's only family since his parents died some years before-and given up any pretense of working for a living, but drinking like a fish instead. So much so, in fact, that his uncle and aunt show him some tough love by showing him the door. Alan takes it in stride and heads off to the Catskills with Jeeves. There, he stays in a forgotten Hasidic resort, goes on a bender, and gets in trouble by telephoning a "for a good time call" number he found in a gas station. He's rescued, if that's the word, by winning a fellowship to an arts colony in Saratoga Springs, where (probably for the first time in his life) he's surrounded by a group of people even weirder than himself. He drinks a lot more, contracts pubic lice, is accused of theft and anti-Semitism, and falls in love. He even manages to write a little. Pungent and hilarious, if completely off the deep end: Ames is like a perpetual undergraduate jokester, whom you eitherlove or hate on first sight. Agent: Rosalie Siegel/International Literary Agent, Inc.
From the Publisher
Sarah Vowell author of The Partly Cloudy Patriot Very funny and altogether elegant, this tale of an endearing drunk and his unflappable manservant is a love story of sorts, but with an American twist. Here, a valet is just a friend one pays.

A. M. Homes author of Music for Torching Wake Up, Sir! takes on the big themes — the homosexual question, the Jewish question, the great American novel question, and more — in this witty, wild romp about a somewhat disturbed young writer. Comic and incredibly accurate: if anyone ever wanted to know what a writer has to endure in order to produce, Jonathan Ames has made it perfectly clear. Wake Up, Sir! is bound to delight.

Colson Whitehead author of John Henry Days A hilarious journey into one man's labyrinthine neuroses, with day trips to compulsion and delusion. The perfect gift for anyone who has ever imagined having a manservant.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594430179
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 7/5/2005
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet 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.” For more information visit www.jonathanames.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Wake Up, Sir!

By Jonathan Ames

Scribner Book Company

Copyright © 2005 Jonathan Ames
All right reserved.

ISBN: 074344907X

Chapter One

Jeeves, my valet, sounds the alarm 7 A physical description of my uncle Irwin, the gun fanatic, and a rundown of his morning regimen 7 I rush through my toilet and yoga 7 A delayed ejaculation of fear

"Wake up, sir. Wake up," said Jeeves.

"What? What is it, Jeeves?" I said, floating out of the mists of Lethe. I had been dreaming of a gray cat, who, like some heavy in a film noir, was throttling in its fists a white mouse. "I was dreaming of a gray cat, Jeeves. Quite the bully."

"Very good, sir."

I started slipping back into that cat-and-mouse confrontation. I wanted to see the little white fellow escape. It had very sweet, pleading eyes. But Jeeves cleared his throat respectfully, and I sensed an unusual urgency to his hovering presence which demanded that the young master rally himself from the luscious pull of dreams. Poor mouse would have to go unsaved. No happy ending.

"What's going on, Jeeves?" I asked, casting a sleepy eye at his kind but inscrutable face.

"There are indications, sir, that your uncle Irwin is no longer asleep."

It was only under these alarming circumstances that Jeeves would interrupt my eight hours of needed unconsciousness. He knew that the happiness of my morning was dependent on having as little contact with said uncle aspossible.

"Groans from the bedroom, Jeeves? He no longer dreams - probably of firearms - and is staring at the ceiling summoning the courage to blight another day?"

"His progression into the morning is further along than that, sir."

"You heard his feet hit the floor and he's sitting on the edge of the bed in a stupor?"

"He's on his stationary bicycle and he's davening, sir." Jeeves had picked up the Anglicization of the Yiddish from me, adding the ing to daven (to pray) as I did.

"Good God!" I said. "This is desperate, Jeeves. Calamitous!"

Coming fully awake and now nearly at the height of my sensory powers, I could make out the spinning of the bicycle's tires, as well as my uncle's off-key Hebraic singing - his bedroom was just fifteen feet away down the hall.

"Do you think there's time, Jeeves?"

"There is very little room for error, sir."

I am usually unflappable and rather hard-boiled, if I may say so, but this predicament first thing in the morning shook me to the core. For several months now, with rigorous discipline, I had just about managed never to see my uncle before noon.

"How has this happened?" I asked. I didn't want to fault Jeeves, but he had never before let my uncle get so far as the stationary bicycle without awakening me.

"Your uncle has risen quite early, sir. It is only eight-thirty. If you'll excuse me for saying so, but I was performing my own toilet during the first stages of his morning program."

"I see, Jeeves. Perfectly understandable." I couldn't expect utter vigilance from the man - after all, he was my valet, not a member of the Queen's Guard - and my uncle had thrown everything off by getting out of bed more than two hours ahead of schedule. This was an anomaly beyond the palest pale, and so our best defense - Jeeves's keen eavesdropping - had been wanting.

Well, I was in a bad way, but I like to think of myself as a man of action when shaken to the core, and so I threw back my blankets. Jeeves, anticipating my every move, handed me my bath towel, materializing it from his person, the way he is apt to materialize things from his person when they are needed, and so I dashed out of my lair, wearing only my boxer shorts, and shot myself into the bathroom, which is right next to my uncle's bedroom.

I had my own morning program to adhere to, but I was going to have to rush through it if I wanted to avoid my nemesis. Hurrying did not appeal to me - I would probably feel anxious the whole day - but an encounter with the ancient relative before noon would be worse. Then all my nerves would be completely unraveled and the day would be lost.

To avoid such an eventuality, Jeeves and I had memorized, in order to map out my every move, my uncle's morning schedule, which was as follows:

(1) Uncle Irwin's wife, my aunt Florence - my late mother's sister - would leave at dawn to go teach special education at the local high school, and she did this year-round, teaching summer school, as well. She was in her early sixties, but still working very hard - an angel in human form. My uncle would say good-bye to her each morning but immediately fall back to sleep. He was in his early seventies and a retired salesman of textile chemicals, though in the afternoons he peddled ultrasonic gun-cleaning equipment to police stations.

My uncle was a firearms expert and the house was equipped with a small arsenal. He was ready for another Kristallnacht or a siege by the FBI if there was a repeal of the Second Amendment. In case of a surprise attack, guns were hidden all over the place - behind shutters, in heating ducts - and he often wore a gun in the house, utilizing a special hip-holster. He called this packing, which has metaphorical resonance, I understand, in the homosexual community as well as in the NRA, which makes perfect sense since there is nothing more phallic than a gun; even phalluses seem less phallic, though, of course, the phallus did precede the firearm.

(2) Around ten-thirty each morning my uncle would awaken. He would groan several times and yawn lustily - his large stomach acted acoustically as a sort of bellows. He was a short, round man with a coal black mustache and a very white beard, and this unusual bifurcated arrangement of his facial hair gave him an uncanny resemblance, despite his Jewish origins, to a Catholic saint-in-waiting - a certain Padre Pio. This was discovered when a sweet and pious Italian woman nearly fainted at the local Grand Union and pressed upon my Uncle Irwin a laminated card with an image of this Pio. My uncle then wrote to a Catholic organization and got his own such card, which he kept in his wallet as a form of identification, flashing it if he was in a playful mood at the synagogue or the shooting range or any of his other haunts. Pio was on the verge of sainthood due to his having stigmata - bleeding from the palms - and my uncle said that his carpal tunnel syndrome, brought on by years of clutching a steering wheel as a traveling salesman, was his stigmata.

(3) So after two to three minutes of these nerve-rattling, church-bellish yawns, whose purpose was to deliver oxygen to his organism, the blankets were thrown off. He would then turn on a small mustard-colored radio, which only picked up one station - a round-the-clock government weather report. The broadcaster's voice was dreary and unintelligible, and it enthralled my uncle for a good five to ten minutes each morning.

(4) Having then been apprised of the current meteorological conditions, he would go to the bathroom and pass water.

(5) After flushing, he'd come back to his room and begin to pray - on average about fifteen minutes.

(6) After prayer, he bathed - ten minutes.

(7) After bathing, around 11 A.M., he was down to the kitchen for his breakfast: microwaved oatmeal, banana in sour cream, hot water with lemon. He ate this hearty meal while reading The New York Times and listening to CBS news on the kitchen radio, which was played at maximum volume. The breakfast, due to the enormity of The New York Times, sometimes lasted as long as two hours, at which point he'd head out for the day to mix with the constabulary and speak of the benefits of keeping the barrel of one's gun free of dust and oil.

Well, that's the schedule - so if I played my cards right, I had bathed, breakfasted, and was safely sequestered back in my room before he even reached the kitchen table. Granted, the explosive radio-playing of CBS was unnerving and did not respect the boundary of my bedroom door, but at least there was no physical contact between myself and the relative. To feel properly aligned, mentally and physically, not to mention avoiding being shot or pistol-whipped, I needed solitude in the morning. You see, solitude is essential to producing art, and art in my case was literature: I was writing a roman ' clef and needed to be left alone. Jeeves was about, but Jeeves was trained to be invisible. They teach you that at valet school.

Sometimes, though, if I was a little off my program, my uncle and I would pass each other on the three-step staircase that led from the kitchen to the bedrooms - it was a small, two-story, Montclair, New Jersey, house - and this was disquieting, but not the end of the world. He'd shoot me a withering glance full of disapproval, but the lighting was poor on that staircase, and so his mien undid me a little but not completely.

What was bad - avoided at all costs - was to be in the kitchen when he began to eat. Not only would he paralyze me with numerous withering glances, his eyes exuding all the compassion of iced oysters, but he generated in me an irrational reaction to the concussive sounds of his chewing. Without any doubt, the noises he made were obscene, but my response was uncalled for. I was his houseguest - well, practically a permanent resident for the last few months; he and the aunt had taken me in during a difficult time, acting like parents; I was only thirty, relatively young, but my mother and father had been deceased for many years - and so I should have been more tolerant of Uncle Irwin, but I found myself completely unraveled by the slurping cries of a sour-cream-soaked banana meeting its doom between his crushing molars and lashing tongue. Listening to him eat, my spine turned to jelly and I couldn't think straight for hours, which is why I had so precisely mapped out his schedule - the relative had to be avoided!

So, on the morning in question, the third Monday in the month of July, year 1995, I was in the bathroom, massaging my chin, and I decided I didn't have time to shave because of the crisis at hand, though it would be the fourth day I hadn't shaved - the old spirits had been a bit low, and when the spirits are low, I seem to lack the moral wherewithal to remove my whiskers - and a reddish beard was beginning to announce its presence. Meanwhile, my uncle was still singing and the bicycle wheels were whooshing.

But I wonder if I'm being clear about this bicycle business. I should explain that it was an eccentricity of my uncle's that he did his davening while on his stationary bicycle, which was actually a blue girl's bicycle that he had found at a garage sale and which had some kind of apparatus restraining its wheels so they didn't touch the carpeting of his bedroom floor. It was a speedless two-wheeler and provided very little resistance or exercise. He had been pedaling on it for years and was as stout as ever. But at least he made an effort. And he prayed. And though he wasn't an Orthodox Jew, he wore official davening gear: about his shoulders was his silky, white tallith with its blue stripes and fringes, and on his left arm and on his forehead were his tefillin - the leather boxes and straps favored by Jews for their morning prayers. The boxes, like a mezuzah, contain the Shema, God's directions to Moses, found in Deuteronomy. One of the lost directions, according to Jewish lore, is "Don't go out with a wet head!" Luckily, this important health command has been orally maintained for thousands of years.

So my uncle was bicycling and praying, and his tallith, had he been on a real bicycle facing the wind and the elements, would have been flapping behind him like a cape. I estimated that he was halfway through his prayers, and I quickly doused myself in the shower. Usually, I enjoyed lolling in the tub for a good fifteen minutes - a meditative Epsom-salts bath was the first station of my morning schedule - but this had to be forsaken.

With limbs still damp, I then sprinted to my room, towel wrapped around me, and just as I was closing my bedroom door, my uncle's door opened and in he went to the bathroom. A narrow escape.

Jeeves had laid out my clothes on the bed - soft khaki pants, green Brooks Brothers tie designed with floating fountain pens, and white shirt. My usual writing garments.

"Thank you, Jeeves," I said.

"You're welcome, sir."

"Nearly collided with the relative in the hallway, don't you know. Another thirty seconds in the shower, and all would have been different. Interesting the way fate works that way, isn't it, Jeeves?"

"Yes, sir."

I sensed a certain chilliness in the man, but pressed on with my theory. "All our lives we're saved from the hangman's noose by mere seconds, Jeeves."

"Yes, sir. If I may point out, sir, you have not shaved for four days." The source of his glacial attitude was revealed.

"I would have shaved today, Jeeves, but I'm economizing my every movement. We have at best ten to fifteen minutes in which to operate." I could see that Jeeves was still wounded. I tried to explain: "My uncle has thrown everything off by rudely changing his schedule. I'll shave tomorrow, I promise."

"Very good, sir."

I had soothed the fellow, and then I quickly pasted on my raiment, but I eschewed the tie.

"Your necktie, sir," Jeeves said.

"There's no time, Jeeves."

"There is always time for your necktie, sir."

"I can't risk it," I said.

"Your uncle is only just now drawing his bath, sir. I believe there is time enough."

"No, Jeeves," I said. "Also I've been meaning to tell you that I don't like doing my yoga while wearing my tie. Especially this time of year with the heat. From now on, I will put on the tie after breakfast."

"Yes, sir," said Jeeves. First the shaving and now the necktie. The man was cut to the quick, injured at his valet core. This was clearly a rough morning in our domestic life, poor old Jeeves, but he was going to have to show more sangfroid.

I flung open my door, raced down the stairs, flew through the kitchen, and ejected myself out the front door onto the small patio.

It was here that I performed my yogic exercises. My whole morning regimen (bath, yoga, no contact with uncle) was about achieving the right frame of mind - the correct mental pH, as it were - to toil at my novel. Usually, I did ten sun salutations. These really get the blood sloshing. You're continually going from standing upright to lying on your belly, then standing up again. What I would do was face east, prostrating myself to the sun, which penetrated through the tops of the summer trees, lighting up thousands of green, eye-shaped leaves. My uncle's house was nestled quite nicely in a bit of secluded woods - very beautiful New Jersey, I've always said, a most unfair reputation.


Excerpted from Wake Up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames Copyright © 2005 by Jonathan Ames. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2005

    Not the best Mr Ames has written

    Wake up, Sir is good book, but having read all his previous books this one could have been better. Still Ames is the one author who has really and authentically captured the mental state, thoughts and aspirations of today's urban gentlemen.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2005

    At Last--The Great New Jersey Novel!

    This is the funniest, most brilliantly twisted novel I've ever read. The lovable alcoholic narrator, his sport coats, the Douglas Fairbanks Jr. mustache, his beat up face, The Homosexual Question, the crabs, Tinkle--all great stuff!!! I get the impression that Jonathan Ames has a big cult following in New York, and I hope it continues to grow because he's an author who deserves great success. WAKE UP, SIR! is the best thing I've read in years--don't waste your money on some other piece of junk book that will probably suck. You MUST read this book because it's the real deal--it's pure genius!

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    Posted April 27, 2011

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