Andrew Sean Greer
Arthur Less is turning 50 and he’s at the edge of a crisis: his writing career has stalled and his former younger lover, Freddy Pelu, is getting married. To guarantee he’ll be out of the country on the day of the wedding, Less accepts a string of unusual writerly engagements that take him around the world. His goal? Forget Freddy and rework the novel his publisher has taken a pass on.
In a comedic series of travel mishaps, misunderstandings, and logistical miracles, Less bumbles through his itinerary and third-tier engagements, mixing it up with authors, appearing on panels, teaching a college class, riding camels and attending obscure awards ceremonies. He’s both running and searching, trying to understand the two big long-term romantic relationships in his life, one with famous poet Robert Brownburn, 25 years his senior, and of course with Freddy. Like Less, many of the characters in the book wonder whether to wait for love or settle for companionship and security. And like Less, some have left or been dropped when something else comes along.
Less is also plagued by an early review of his first book, which describes him as “a magniloquent spoony.” “It’s like a code,” he says to Robert. “Is he sending messages to the enemy?” Robert responds, “Arthur, he’s just calling you a faggot.” Greer questions the subtle rules about being a gay writer. Less isn’t self-conscious about being gay, but he doesn’t like when people call his writing foolish and tenderhearted. “It’s not that you’re a bad writer. It’s that you’re a bad gay,” comments a friend. “It is our duty to show something beautiful from our world. The gay world. But in your books, you make the characters suffer without reward.” Less isn’t sure the two are related.
What’s interesting about this symbolic journey is that, while the whole trip is Less’s doing, he is a passive traveler, here and throughout his life. Crazy things happen to him along the way, yet he always makes it to the next engagement and sometimes he’s the star of the show. Happy luck – it’s one of his most endearing characteristics, for readers and for all of the people in his life.
Readers hope there will be happiness at the end of Less’s journey. Will the second half of his life mirror the comedy of his youth?
I loved this book and highly recommend it to lovers of fiction. It’s described as a romcom and I’d agree, but only on the surface. There’s a lot to this book and the humor takes you there.
I’d read another book by Greer about five years ago, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells and thought it was excellent, so when I saw that Greer (and Less) won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, I knew I wanted to read it. This book is funny, happy, sad and, I think, universal in appeal. The struggles of Less’s characters apply to everyone, regardless of orientation. Greer is the type of author who can do that. While the majority of Amazon readers liked the book, others were unsure. To round out my review, here are a few WordPress bloggers’ opinions.
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