By Andrew Sean Greer
Andrew Sean Greer’s peripatetic contemplation on love and self-worth is a pleasant and often lyrical experience. The Less of the title is one Arthur Less, the author of several lesser works, and himself a self-deprecating fellow. The novel follows him as he travels the world to lesser award presentations, lecture gigs, and retreats to redraft his latest novel that his long time publisher has rejected. His impetus for leaving is that his younger lover, Freddy Pelu, has left him for another man whom Freddy is about to marry; yet another indignity and punishment the world has inflicted on him. If there’s a literary conceit here it is that while Arthur things little of himself, believes that the world continually catches him in traps designed to pummel him with failure, the opposite appears to be true; that many do like him as a man, respect him as a writer (just not a loyal gay writer), and love him enough to give up other lovers and husbands for him. If we can find a lesson here, perhaps it is that we shouldn’t be quite as down on ourselves as some of us tend to be; that, really, we probably are better people than we give ourselves credit for being.
Greer possesses a skillful style that floats the story along and engages the reader. Even when not much happens, the little bit happens with charm. Greer’s also a keen observer of people, in particular people many readers probably don’t encounter much in their own lives. These are people steeped in the art of thinking about themselves, those around them, and translating their observations into essays, novels, and poems we read to sharpen our own insights not only into the workings of the world but ourselves as well. Greer has created a charming voice for the narrator. The narrator knows Arthur intimately, in fact, better than Arthur seems to know himself. Most readers will soon enough figure out who is telling the story of Arthur’s loves and writings and bouts with angst, but even so it’s pleasantly and warmly rewarding when that narrator steps from the shadows.
So, if you’re in the mood for a charming, witty, and insightful trip around the world that includes San Francisco, Mexico, Italy, Germany, France, Morocco, and India (containing some of the best passages in the novel), climb on board Less. w/c