“Less Is Lost” By: Andrew Sean Greer
“Less Is Lost”
Author: Andrew Sean Greer
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co,
New York, 2022
Price: $29.00 (Hardcover)
In 2018, middle-aged mid-list novelist Andrew Sean Greer published “Less,” his sixth book, featuring Arthur Less, a middle-aged mid-list novelist whose latest manuscript has just been turned down by his publisher and whose ex-boyfriend, Freddy, has announced his marriage to another. Arthur has always lacked self-confidence, is emotionally tender and easily rattled. He is even uncertain as to whether he is or is not a “bad gay,” whatever that means, and Arthur does not know.
To avoid the wedding, Arthur accepts a slew of invitations he would normally have declined and goes on a round-the-world trip that takes him to NYC, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Japan, Tahiti. He meets some truly odd people, has hilarious adventures, some romantic, and returns.
“Less,” amazingly and deservedly, won the Pulitzer Prize. Comic novels, like comic films, do not usually win big prizes. These are reserved for heavy, serious works that carry a load of cultural pain, and are thus deemed important.
Arthur, the hapless, is important, too!
In this terrific sequel, Arthur has a new catastrophe to deal with. He must earn a lot of money, fast, or lose his little San Francisco home.
So—he sets out across the country on another picaresque adventure, to any literary gig which will pay him.
The picaresque, which has its novelistic base in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and in America is best represented by Huck Finn, is an amazingly useful form. The protagonist goes from episode to episode and new problems and new eccentric characters arise at each stop.
Greer again incorporates some wry thoughts about the author’s life. Arthur’s previous long-time lover, the much older man and famous poet Robert Brownburn, had told him “I’m sorry you’ve become a writer…I’m sorry this disaster has come for you.”
Instead of floating through life, like most people, the writer must “pay attention.”
The science fiction writer he interviews in New York, H. H. H. Mandern, tells him the present time in America is the Age of iron, a low point with only a fraction of the Old Magic remaining, BUT writers “are that fraction of Old Magic that remains.”
A Czech writer he meets criticizes Arthur for being a typical American writer, which he defines as a writer who only knows New York City, San Francisco and Boston and does not “bother” with the rest of the country.
Arthur will fix that, get in touch with America. He sets out in a rattly RV for engagements at a commune in the Mojave Desert, in Santa Fe and then, with trepidation, Alabama.
His boyfriend Freddy is worried. “I heard they killed queers there.” And “Being white might not be enough.”
Arthur is undaunted but buys a baseball cap, a “HOOT ‘N’ HOLLER” T-shirt and several miniature American flags so he will not look conspicuous.
He will visit Natchez first, then Oxford, and, with a theater company dramatizing one of his stories, to Muscle Shoals. He notices a banner that reads, “Our citizens are the greatest people in the world” and wonders what the locals think about, seeing that every day.
There is confusion and embarrassment—Arthur’s specialty—and, like Telemachus in “The Odyssey,” another picaresque, Arthur searches for his lost father, but the bigger search is for America.
He muses: “America, how’s your marriage? Your two-hundred-fifty-year-old promise to stay together in sickness and in health?”
Greer has written another comic masterpiece. Don’t take my word for it. David Sedaris says “the book is “Wildly, painfully funny.” He’s right.