I sped through Less by Andrew Sean Greer, like a six year old ripping open a birthday present. It made me smile, laugh, groan, and get a bit misty with tears. Greer deserves the Pulitzer for effortlessly mixing humor, pathos, and adventure.
Arthur Less is guileless, as innocent as a nearly-fifty gay man can be, and utterly charming. Heck, if you’ll forgive the pun, he’s artless. And I mean that in the best possible way. Less is an author who’s biggest claim to fame isn’t his books but his past relationship with a famous poet. He writes about men like himself, and his latest book is feeling like a struggle. And right before his fiftieth, his former lover (not the poet, but the younger more recent lover) is getting married. Less isn’t in a good place.
So, he decides to switch up that place by accepting a series of invitations around the world. He’ll be out of the country for both the wedding and the birthday. Arthur Less is an escapist story at its best.
This was exactly the book I needed right now. It’s lighthearted but also considers heavy topics—love, aging, accomplishment. Arthur Less is insecure, self-deprecating, and very funny. The narrator’s identity isn’t revealed until the end, but he certainly tells Less’s story with eye-winking affection.
Greer is a master of words. He turns a hotel coffeemaker into “a hungry little mollusk.” A fellow traveler “…must have been slim in his youth, with long black hair, colored blue in a certain light, as in old comic books.”
Greer takes idiosyncratic Less and makes him an everyman. An apartment door snafu becomes a balcony climbing event. “She knows he is not a thief, he is clearly just an American.” A gay man, born in Delaware, living in San Francisco, who needs his uniquely blue suit with fuschia lining to feel like himself.
This is definitely not “my kind” of book, since I tend towards fantastical historical fiction or science-ey nonfiction. I loved it nonetheless. Thanks Pulitzer Committee, for introducing me to Andrew Sean Greer. I’ll be hunting down his backlist next.